This is a cross-curricular and project-based activity that integrates American history, ELA, math, geography, and film making in Minecraft! Moreover, students are learning the essential 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving.
In this activity, students are challenged to focus on a key event in American history — after watching the first episode of American History of Us, we decided on the founding and settlement of Jamestown. Students then, individually, in groups, and as a class, conduct research and determine the essential historical milestones and facts that will effectively tell the story of Jamestown through a Minecraft movie!
From there, students are writing scripts, building the sets in Minecraft, and rehearsing to create a cohesive narrative. Building the sets, particularly the Jamestown settlement, is a great opportunity to integrate math, geography, and architecture. We recommend having students go through our Algebra Architecture lesson plans, Building a House and Building a Parthenon, to become familiar with the concepts of area, perimeter, and the process of creating structures in Minecraft. The Parthenon lesson plan in particular will help students develop their own equations to determine the number of materials needed to make Jamestown.*
The process of making a movie does take time, but the educational benefits are great — it requires considerable depth of knowledge in the content and develops key skills that showcase that students know the material and are able to articulate it. Plus, the level of engagement and focus we’ve witnessed while making the movie contributes to a positive learning environment — kids really come together as a group and get a kick out of making a movie!
Since this activity is highly student-driven, the experience for each class will vary significantly. We’ll do our best to provide relevant resources, questions to ask, and examples from our classes to empower students to be participatory learners and creators.
This activity was run with a 5th grade class, but the subject matter can scale up to the high school level and as low as third grade.
*We’ve provided equations we used to make our settlement, but our formulas may differ from when you run this activity in your classroom.
- Identify key events, figures, and locations of a historical topic (e.g. the settlement of Jamestown), citing evidence from a variety of sources through class-wide and independent research.
- Assess and synthesize — from their research and through class discussion — those key events, figures, and locations into a coherent narrative for the purpose of filming it in Minecraft.
- Create, in writing groups, a well-researched and engaging screenplay that covers the historical topic.
- Design and build historical sets and costumes (i.e. skins) in Minecraft that will be used for filming, integrating their research and making design choices (i.e. paying attention to the look of individual sets and costumes and considering how it fits the overall aesthetic of the film).
- Develop algebraic equations from Minecraft structures, showing a clear understanding of manipulation of variables and order of operations.
- Critique and self-critique their screenplay through rehearsal sessions, integrating peer and teacher feedback.
- Plan and organize shooting schedule for filming.
- Film scenes for their historical movie and edit it together to tell a coherent, well-researched, and entertaining story.
History of Jamestown Standards Alignment
Click on the link above to view our explanations of how this lesson plan is aligned to Common Core Math Standards.
|Grade Level||3rd Grade||4th Grade||5th Grade||6th Grade||7th Grade|
|Measurement & Data||3.MD.C.5.A
|Expressions & Equations||6.EE.A.2.A
- Either as a class or as a take-home assignment, watch an episode of American History of Us (this is a link to the first episode, Rebels).
- Choose a historical event to focus on. The first episode of American History of Us has a segment on Jamestown so we decided on its founding and settlement.
|The documentary series “American History of Us” is a possible starting off point into early colonial history. Photo credit: www.history.com|
- Note: Alternatively, you can assign different student groups to a variety of historical events or locations.
- Explain to students that they are going to make a movie in Minecraft that tells the story of Jamestown. Lay out the process for them so everyone is clear on the scope and sequence. Have students add anything else they deem important. Here is the process our class came up with:
- Conduct outside research
- Decide on scenes for the movie based on research
- Write the scenes (i.e. script or screenplay)
- Use math to build the sets in Minecraft
- Find skins for characters in Minecraft
- Rehearse scenes
- Re-write scenes
- Film scenes
- Post-production: edit the scenes
- Have students conduct outside research using their textbooks, the Internet, any other apt resources about Jamestown.
- When students are doing research, make sure they provide links to their source. For example, if your class has Edmodo or related educational platforms, have them put the links to sites and articles to share with the class.
- Note: You can provide guided research prompts to the students or keep it more wide open. We’ve provided some prompts below:
- What were the original reasons that led to the founding of Jamestown?
- Who are the important people we should know about? Why?
- What reasons did they choose to settle in Jamestown?
- What does Jamestown look like?
- List the major events that happened. If you were to create the story of Jamestown, what would happen in the beginning and the end?
- What other interesting and random facts did you find in your research?
- Facilitate a discussion for students to share the findings from their research of Jamestown. Use the research prompts above to guide the discussion. We’ve provided some answers that our students came up with, which can be accessed here.
|Creating a timeline, either written on the board, or digitally can be a way of guiding the discussion and organizing students’ research findings.|
- From the discussion, work with students to come up with a list of scenes that can tell the story of Jamestown. Have them use their research and the American History of Us episode to help them determine the order. Below is our scene list with a brief summary of each. (Note: As much as possible, have students use their own words to describe the scenes — we’ve edited our summaries for clarity).
- Scene 1 – The Charter: English merchants get the charter from the Virginia Company of London to sail to the new world. This scene explains the reasons for the charter.
- Scene 2 – Leaving: The merchants leave their families behind.
- Scene 3 – Arrival: The merchants arrive to the new world with hopes of finding gold.
- Scene 4 – Where to Build?: The merchants decide the reasons for building their settlement at its specific location.
- Scene 5 – The Starving Times: A period of starvation. The settlers were not prepared to farm for food and had to resort to drastic means to survive.
- Scene 6 – War with the Natives: Lord Delaware arrives and forces the settlers to stay in Jamestown. They decide to go to war with the Natives.
- Scene 7 – John Rolfe, Pocahontas, and Tobacco: Tobacco becomes a valuable crop. John Rolfe was one of the top tobacco growers and was helped by the Powhatans. He married Pocahontas which ended the war with the natives.
- Scene 8 – Slavery: Decades later, the settlers used slaves to work in the fields.
- Note: Slavery can be a touchy subject to teach, but the students were adamant that it be included in the film. This led to another discussion in the class about how slavery is firmly entrenched in American history and shouldn’t be ignored.
- Scene 9 – Colony: Jamestown becomes an official colony of England.
Part 3 of this activity came rather organically. Students began organizing themselves into groups and began building in Minecraft, and writing scripts simultaneously. The following is an ideal situation in which all students have a chance to build sets, find skins (wardrobe for the characters), and write. However, the main emphasis is to empower students to focus on their interests and collaborate with their peers.
During this time, the teacher should act as a floater, offering guidance when necessary but promoting an environment of self-guidance and discovery.
- Divide students into groups of 3-5 and have them choose which scenes they want to write. The number of groups will vary depending on how many scenes the class has decided on.
- When writing scenes, encourage student groups to:
- Incorporate their research into the written scenes, including key events, locations, and characters.
- Use dialogue (e.g. what people will say) instead of more expository writing.
- Write scenes that are about a page or two in length — this can vary depending on grade level, but a page should equate to approximately one minute.
- Receive input from all members of the group.
- Read their scene aloud.
- Use humor or other techniques to keep the audience entertained. The scenes should be informative and fun!
- Have students consider how many different sets they needed to build. Our class came up with three main sets.
- Set 1: King James’ castle in England
|The set for King James’ castle. Note the details students use (flags, artwork, etc.) to create a feeling of opulence and royalty.|
- Set 2: A ship for the departure, arrival, and the slavery scene
|This ship was used for multiple scenes of our movie, which saved a lot of building time.|
- Set 3: A remodeling of Jamestown, including its shape, shelters, and location.
- Note: The focus should be on the remodeling of Jamestown, making its depiction in Minecraft as historically accurate as possible.
|Note that the students built Jamestown on a high elevation and bordering water, just like the actual Jamestown.|
|Note we included gardens with the Jamestown houses.|
- There were several locations we used, including a place for mining (since the settlers were looking for gold), a small chapel for the marriage between John Rolfe and Pocahontas, and a meeting hall for the final scene. The chapel and meeting hall were buildings located in Jamestown.
- When building these sets, implore students to conduct research on what these sets would actually look like and do their best to replicate it.
- Ensure that there is a shooting location for all scenes.
- Have students research what people were wearing at that time, including the royalty, settlers, Natives, and any other important characters.
- Sites such as The Skindex have a variety of skins that students can use for the characters.
- Note: If students want to create their own skins, the Skindex has an editor they can use. Students should sketch their skins beforehand on paper before using the skin editor.
Before including this math portion of the activity, we recommend facilitating two related algebra architecture lesson plans, Building a House and Building a Parthenon. This helps students become familiar with the concepts of area, perimeter, and seeing mathematical equations in Minecraft structures.
- When students are done building the set of Jamestown, including the outer perimeter and structures inside of it, ask them: “How can we find out how many total blocks were needed to create all of Jamestown?”
- From their previous experience with algebra architecture, students should be able to break down the parts of the settlement into variables. Below is an example of the variables and equations our class came up with:
- Jth = Walls + TR + R + G
- Jth = Total # of materials needed to make a house in Jamestown.
- Walls = P(H)
- P = 2(L+W) – 4
- P = Perimeter of the house.
- L = Length of the house, measured in blocks
- W = Width of the house, measured in blocks
- L = Length of the house, measured in blocks
- We also minus 4 because we count the corner blocks twice
- H = Height of the house, measured in blocks
- TR = 2(BH2)
- TR = Total # of blocks needed to make the triangular pop-up roof for the Jamestown structures.
- B = W + 1
- B = Width of the house, measured in blocks, plus one
- H2 = Height of the roof, measured in blocks
- R = (W+2)L
- R = Total # of blocks needed to make the basic roof for the Jamestown structures.
- W = Width of the house, measured in blocks, plus two.
- L = Length of the house, measured in blocks.
- G = 2(2L+(W-2))
- G = Total # of materials needed to make the garden attached to the Jamestown structures
- L = Length of the garden
- W = Width of the garden. We minus two for the gate to go in and out of the garden.
- With these formulas, you can have each student find the number of materials for each structure and add them together to find out the total number of materials.
- Here is a video explaining the formulas above:
- Here is a worksheet that you can distribute to students to check for their understanding of the concepts and equations.JamestownHouseMathPuzzleWorksheet.pdf
- 76 KB
|Note that L1 and L2 are the same length for our triangle.|
- If students are also interested in counting the blocks that make the triangular enclosure of the Jamestown settlement, we’ve provided the formula for that as well.
- Jte = P(H1)
- P = L1 + L2 + L3 – 3
- L1, L2, L3 = Lengths of the sides of the triangular perimeter, measured in blocks. We also minus 3 because we count the corners of the blocks twice.
- H1 = Height of the perimeter, measured in blocks
|The height of the perimeter. In the image below, the height is four blocks high.|
Rehearsals are important for kids to get comfortable moving in their own bodies and gain a better understanding of how characters move in Minecraft.
- Once all the scenes have been written, give students 20 minutes in class to rehearse them.
- Each writing group should be rehearsing the scenes they’ve written.
- Each student should have a copy of the scenes they’ll be performing.
- Encourage students to do some basic blocking — plan out where characters are standing and moving, ensuring everyone can be seen, etc.
- After students have had time to rehearse, have them perform the scenes in order. Here are some sample questions you can ask the class after each scene or a number of scenes:
- What happened in the scene(s)? Can someone summarize it in two sentences?
- What did you appreciate about the scene(s)? Why?
- Is there anything you would like to add to the scene(s)? What are they?
- What could have been made clearer in the scene?
- Did you learn anything new from watching the scene(s)? What are they?
- Is there any information that you came across from your research that would help the scene(s)? What are they?
- Note: Have each group take notes during the feedback session.
- Once all scenes have been rehearsed, discuss – as a class – how they can be integrated better. Ask students if all the scenes flowed into each other well, or if there a ways to make it flow better.
- Now that the writing groups have received feedback on their scenes, ask them to edit and re-write their scenes.
- Suggest to students that they don’t have to integrate all the feedback, but work with their group members to decide on what comments they could use.
- Note: Give students time to rewrite and if time permits, to rehearse the scenes again. Students may need a few rewrite sessions to make a concise script. It may also be helpful to mix up the writing groups at this time so students can work on different scenes.
- Once scripts have been finalized, your class is ready to film!
- First, prepare a filming schedule with your class, listing the order that you will film your scenes.
- With each scene, list all the different characters and cast. Two students should be assigned to one character — one voice over and one mover.
- Voice over: This student will say the actual lines of the character. All voice overs will be done at one computer that picks up the sound.
- Mover: This student will move the character while they are speaking. The mover will be at a computer for their assigned character, controlling the mouse and keyboard.
- Load up the Minecraft world that the students have been working on. Make sure all other computers have the world loaded up as well.
- For each scene:
Here is a sample classroom setup for filming.
Have the movers — each at a different computer — controlling their assigned characters.
- Have the voice overs with you at one computer with their scripts.
- Open up a screen recording software on the voice over computer and make sure that its internal microphone is picking up the audio. It’s even better if you an external mic.
- Note: You may want to do a few rehearsals in Minecraft, especially when you are filming for the first time.
- Remind students to be as quiet as possible during filming, or else the mic will pick up their voices.
- Press record, say “Action!”, and film the scene.
- Note: There will be a lot of downtime as you go through each of the scenes, and come across minor technical issues.
- For students who are not currently filming, plan activities for them as well. This can be silent reading, preparing and rehearsing for the next scene, or begin writing their essay on Jamestown.
- Note: There will be a lot of downtime as you go through each of the scenes, and come across minor technical issues.
- Say “Cut!” when the scene is over and stop recording. Go on to the next scene. You should have at least one video file for each scene, if not more.
- Once a scene has been recorded, you can show the raw footage to the class and projecting it on the screen. This instant gratification of students hearing their own voices and seeing what they’ve built beginning to take shape is extremely powerful, encouraging them to do the best they can for the rest of the scenes.
- When all scenes have been recorded and everyone is happy with each of them, it’s time to edit the files together.
- Depending on your students’ level of interest, you can have a group of them work on the editing themselves so the whole movie is as much student produced as possible.
- A film editor that comes with your computer, such as Movie Maker or iMovie, will work.
- YouTube also has a simple movie editor that can suffice.
- Whoever is doing the editing should take into consideration:
- Adjusting audio levels if necessary by checking to see if the levels are too loud or soft.
- Editing the raw footage, taking out when the director is saying “Action!”, “Cut!”, or anything else that isn’t necessary to the scenes.
- Integrating an appropriate soundtrack to the movie that fits with tone and style. This is a possible discussion to have with students.
- How to transition from scene to scene to make the movie flow as well as possible.
- Putting in a title card and end card.
- When the film is done, show it to the class, upload it on video site such as YouTube or Vimeo, and show it to everyone else! Here is the video that our students created about Jamestown.