Social Reform, Activism and Minecraft

Each spring, 3rd grade students learn about industrialization, immigration, the Great Migration and present-day Chicago as part of their classroom study. During this time, one of the people they learn about is progressive social reformer and activist Jane Addams, who worked on the front line of the settlement house movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The students learn about her activism, reform and advocacy for immigrants, women and world peace. 

In past years, students have used a range of avenues to learn about Addams and her work, including books, videos, teacher-created materials and a field trip to the Hull House Museum, to name a few. This year, 3rd grade teachers worked with members of the Integrated Learning and Information Science (ILIS) Department to enhance the curriculum to better meet the needs and interests of the current student body. This year, students no longer visit the Hull House Museum to learn about Jane Addams and her work—they use Minecraft to build their very own virtual museum of the Hull House campus at school!

When students were conducting research on this unit, they read the book The House That Jane Built, had discussions, made connections with information contained therein and considered the reasons for making available resources like Hull House—historically and today. Teachers led students in conversations about the larger societal changes that Jane Addams fought for, like kindergarten, public playgrounds and access to plumbing, clean water and job and education services, and the wider impact of her advocacy on the city and the country. 

The research component of this project also invited students to take a close look at primary source documents. As they learned about Hull House, they looked at photographs and images from the archives of its museum and other institutions and documented the purpose of each room, materials in that room and the room’s benefit to the community. This exercise gave students the opportunity to spend time slowly looking at historical photos and developing the skills to pull information from images and primary source documents. 

With their newfound and highly detailed knowledge of Addams’ work and intentions for Hull House, students turned to ILIS teacher Seth Bacon, who designed a Minecraft world they would all work in simultaneously to build a virtual museum of the Hull House campus.

First, students wrote about what they would draw in their room. Next, they drew a blueprint. The final stage was building a 3-D model in Minecraft. Students from each homeroom took turns gathering in the Kovler Family Library in front of a projection screen with an iPad. Working in groups of four, students built their rendition of Hull House, consisting of one room per student. Working side by side, they collaborated, compromised and planned as they built art studios, kitchens, playgrounds, nurseries and more.

Throughout the process, students also had chances to be the teachers. Many 3rd graders have been using Minecraft for years, and when a classmate had a problem or could not figure out how to build something, other students stepped in and shared ideas and their Minecraft skills. 

This recent curricular evolution is an example of our teachers working together to help students make deeper connections with material they are learning in the classroom and the work in ILIS.

Click here for photos of this unit.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.