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$2 million grant allows Maine students to use Minecraft in research project

The University of Maine has been awarded a $1,999,695 grant to conduct a research project of rural students developing their computer skills by playing Minecraft.

The National Science Foundation used researchers to create a program focused on students from fifth to eighth grade that engage them with computer science, programming and math skills by playing the popular video game. The game allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a three-dimensional world.

The research project will be led by UMaine researchers, specifically by Bruce Segee, who is the Henry R. and Grace V. Butler Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UMaine. The project will be focusing on how students gain vital skills and eventually work in the fields of science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).

“The use of computer games as a mechanism for teaching computer sciences concepts while also improving the effectiveness of the core curriculum is incredibly exciting. We believe that we will see an improvement in student learning across multiple areas,” Segee told the Bangor Daily News.

Co-principal investigators helping Segee are Craig Mason, UMaine professor of education, and Stephen Foster, CEO and co-founder of ThoughtSTEM, who are creating the program that will teach fifth to eighth graders how to use LearnToMod for Minecraft. LearnToMod will be first used in 2016 and is a web browser that helps users learn introductory computer programming to figure out maneuvers within the game.

The LearnToMod tool will be offered through University of Maine Cooperative Extension 4-H, used during and after school, and will ultimately determine the student’s skills in computer programming and math, enhance their standardized test scores, and create interest in a STEM career.

The program will account for 80 4-H students, 80 in-school students and about 1,000 rural students. All students will be focused on while they play the game, as their behaviors will be analyzed in developing their skills.

Other researchers working on the project are Network Maine, Maine Department of Education’s Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) and many K-12 schools across the state of Maine.

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