Thursday, May 21, 2015

Block City - Adventures in City Planning with First Graders

Mrs. Hall's class recently wrapped up a unit that combines geometry and social studies called "Block City". In this unit, the students discuss 3D shapes along with the ideas behind city planning. The class talked about how cities are laid out and why, then created their own city within the classroom.

Each student was responsible for building one structure within the city. They used wooden blocks to build a prototype, then sketched their constructions on paper. Once these "blueprints" were complete, it was time to place their buildings within the grid of a city. Mrs. Hall laid out a grid of tape on the floor of the classroom, and the class decided where each building should be placed. Should the airport be near the houses? What about the trash dump? How close should the power plant be to other buildings? Once these decisions were made, the model of the city was complete.

Block City in the Classroom

We decided to take the project one step further this year by having the students collaborate in Minecraft to make a 3D digital model of their city. To save time and frustration, I created a Minecraft map modeled after the grid the students had laid out on the floor, with the spawn point up high so they could see how the map was laid out. (I put the spawn point inside a cloud because I had just learned how to automatically create hollow spheres using commands and wanted to practice my newfound skill- "//hsphere [block type] [radius]").

When the students arrived at the lab on the first day, we made sure to discuss behavior expectations along with making sure everyone knew exactly where to go on the Minecraft map to build their individual buildings. We spent time comparing the grid from the classroom with the digital Minecraft map. Once we were sure that everyone would be successful at placing their building on the map, the students logged into the game and began building. Most of the students were still learning the controls, so some of the first session was spent figuring out how to fly, place blocks, and search for the blocks they wanted. Unexpectedly, searching proved to be a great integration of phonics, because I could hear kids sounding out the words as they typed them. There was also tons of collaboration going on, as students helped each other with controls and spelling. The individual buildings took two 1-hour sessions to complete.

The third and last session was devoted to finishing out the city. Students had been put into teams: roads, traffic signals, parks, playgrounds, etc. These kids sat together during this session so that collaboration would be easier. We quickly found that an adult needed to sit with each group for a few minutes to guide their planning, so that working together would be successful. I sat with the roads committee so we could decide which blocks looked best as road material and come up with a plan for filling in the roads. Mrs. Hall worked with the playground committee to decide what equipment they'd like to build and how best to create them within the limitations of the game. Slides and monkey bars initially proved challenging, but the girls figured out you could use ladders or rails to make them.

The view from above

A lovely park

Homes, parks and buildings

Another lovely park

The school 
The airport and runway

Wastewater plant

Stop sign and Power plants

The library (with spawn cloud in the distance)

A stoplight

Such a great city!

I was initially uncertain about how well using Minecraft would go with such young students, but I was thrilled with the outcome. There was so much creativity and collaboration happening during each of the sessions, and the students were proud of their work. I would definitely do this lesson again next year!


  1. I like the theme! It is so colorful and wonderful! It seems that Minecraft is very useful in that case! Cool!

  2. What age group was this? I work with K-2 graders who talk a lot about minecraft but I know nothing.... any suggestions?

  3. What age group was this? I work with K-2 graders who talk a lot about minecraft but I know nothing.... any suggestions?