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Australia’s first NAIDOC Minecraft Education Challenge brings traditional stories to life through mixed reality and Minecraft Education

This NAIDOC week (8–15 November 2020) over 1000 students across 31 schools participated in Australia’s first NAIDOC Minecraft Education Challenge exploring the question: “How might we build sustainable schools, cities, towns or communities in 2030 using Indigenous science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM)?”

Anchored in this year’s national NAIDOC theme ‘Always Was. Always Will Be’ and inspired by the Indigital Schools program and platform, the Challenge invited students to research and learn about Indigenous knowledges, histories, and create stories unique to their local area.  Using Microsoft’s Paint 3D and Minecraft: Education Edition, students were then asked to design and build new sustainable cities based on a futuristic interpretation of cultural knowledge, language and ways of knowing and being.

The Challenge is the brainchild of Indigital Founder and Cabrogal woman Mikaela Jade.  It was designed using the foundations of the Indigital Schools program – Australia’s first Indigenous designed digital skills training program – which teaches children how to bring Indigenous cultural knowledge, history and language to life though augmented reality, using Minecraft and Python coding.

Delivered in partnership with Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX), an initiative co-founded by the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) and Telstra Foundation, the Challenge celebrates and promotes a better understanding of our shared history, and builds respect and recognition of the unique place Australia’s first peoples have in this country.

By bringing together community elders and stories, cultural training, teacher training and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, the challenge can be delivered in a culturally appropriate way in a school environment.

Mikaela Jade, Indigital CEO, says “Together, we can use digital technologies to express 80,000 years of human knowledge for generations to come, and enable Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids to connect with and learn from Elders about cultural knowledge, history and language, while learning digital skills in cutting-edge technologies like augmented reality, animation and coding.”

Backed by Telstra Foundation, Microsoft, the National NAIDOC Committee and the National Library of Australia, the Challenge is an exciting opportunity to combine the world’s oldest living cultures with the latest in twenty-first-century technology.

Jane Mackarell, K-12 Director, Microsoft Australia, said; “It’s tremendously important that Microsoft supports Indigenous-led initiatives that develop twenty-first-century skills for all students. For these schools, accessing the Indigital platform, where students are engaged using cutting edge technologies alongside rich connections to culture – make this project unique. The program supporting the Challenge is also sustainable – encompassing curriculum that can be taught in schools nationally and ensuring that teachers and the community are involved and supported.  We hope that by embedding this capability in Australian schools, generations of students will benefit from learning about the nation’s oldest living cultures while developing the skills that allow them to thrive in modern workplaces.”

Jackie Coates, Head of the Telstra Foundation, said “This NAIDOC Week, I can’t think of a more fun way for young people to connect with both emerging tech and the world’s oldest living cultures – it’s important work and we’re proud to support Indigital through the Indigenous Digital Excellence initiative.”

In the event’s inaugural year, Indigital and IDX leveraged their existing networks to invite 25 schools and communities from across Australia to participate in the pilot challenge. The participating schools stretch as far north as Erub (Darnley Island) in the Eastern Torres Strait Islands, and as far south as Bruny Island in Tasmania.

Annie Butler, a teacher from Plumpton Primary School, said “Honestly, this has been the best program I have ever taught the kids were screaming with excitement and their knowledge and research into Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing was incredible. The kids loved it and Indigital has been so helpful and supportive.”

Samantha Ephraims from Kalkie State School has also been running the Challenge with her students, “I am having trouble getting the kids to leave the class to go to other subjects! It has been amazing to see the kids actively looking for more knowledge in both Indigenous and tech skills.”

What truly sets this Challenge apart from other digital skills programs is the opportunity it creates for students to discover and explore their local Indigenous cultures.  Setting the foundation for a next generation of Australians to embrace Australia’s Indigenous culture.

“The kids noticed it was hard to find information on Indigenous culture in their area, so reached out to university lecturers and all kinds of people to find out why, we found out this was a meeting place and the river rocks held important cultural significance.  The children were sad to learn these rocks were taken away to be displayed in museums and places like that. We focused on these rocks because it highlights how once culture is removed, it is lost”, said Sam.

First prize for the Best Minecraft World will see one lucky school win an IDX Flint Program package, valued at $25,000. Since 2016, IDX has delivered its flagship program, IDX Flint, in regional and remote communities across Australia to inspire, build and connect the next generation of Indigenous digital makers and entrepreneurs.

Each Flint workshop provides $15,000 of in-kind support from IDX through two days of hands-on workshops for young people, two days of skills development for local facilitators, and a tailored kit of equipment and educational resources to the value of $10,000.

National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) Operations Manager and Birri Gubba, Wakka Wakka and Tongan man John Leha said the Challenge was another step towards ensuring our young people are equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the future.

“The Challenge has allowed us to create a space where Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people can come together, create, explore and learn with technology, as well as connect with our cultures, and learn from those who have come before us. We have the ability and creativity to thrive in the STEM space.  Initiatives like this are ensuring our young people continue to build their skills to strive for excellence,” Leha said.

Judging took place on 15 November 2020, and the winners were announced at a special event streamed live at the National Library of Australia on 18 November 2020.

“This is a remarkable project that provides the opportunity for us to stimulate our next generation of researchers and creative thought leaders.  It connects our young ones to emerging technologies and cultural practices that can only serve to enhance their own sense of identity and place in this world,” Marcus Hughes, Director Indigenous Engagement, National Library of Australia, said.

  1. Best Augmented Reality Characters
    1. 1st Place: Kody Pope​, Age 13​, Eidsvold State School, Qld
    2. 2nd Place: Wilirriya Burarrwanga, ​14 years old​, Yirrkala Bilingual School, NT
    3. 3rd Place:  Thomas Lucassen​, Melton Specialist School, VIC
    4. Runner Up: Iggy Gavrilovic​ (11 years old​) – Gordon Primary School, ACT
    5. Runner Up: St Peter’s Primary School, WAl; Celeste Toh (11 years old), Aleisha Trah (11 years old),  Hunter McCombie (10 years old) & Zac Pietropaolo (10 years old).
  2. Best Minecraft Education Edition World:
    1. Winner: Kalkie State School
    2. Runner Up: Ermington West Public School
    3. Runner Up: St Peters Primary School
    4. Runner Up: Merredin College
    5. Runner Up: Gordon Primary School
  3. Best Challenge Narrative:
    1. Winner: Bruny Island District School
    2. Runner Up: Merredin College School
    3. Runner Up: Plumpton Primary School
    4. Runner Up: Ermington West Public School

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

What is the NAIDOC Minecraft Education Challenge?

The Challenge is an initiative of Indigital and the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence’s, Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) program, and is supported by the Telstra Foundation, Microsoft Australia, Minecraft Education, the National NAIDOC Committee and the National Library of Australia. The Challenge is the first of its kind to be hosted in Australia and is anchored on Australia’s national NAIDOC celebration – the largest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander celebration and the brand behind the Aboriginal flag. This year’s NAIDOC theme is ‘Always Was, Always Will Be.’

Challengers from 25 schools, from years 3 to 8, have been invited to create augmented reality characters and Minecraft: Education Edition worlds, exploring the question: “How might we build sustainable schools, cities, towns or communities in 2030 using Indigenous science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM)?”

Judging Criteria and Prizes
Each school submitted one augmented-reality character, one Minecraft world and a completed form that demonstrates the students had:

  1. Addressed a local challenge (cultural, environmental or social)
  2. Highlighted the new digital skills they have learned through the challenge (via the creation of a nonplaying character story, signposts within the Minecraft Education world or a Minecraft education portfolio)
  3. Showcased what they had learnt about Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander cultures.

Judging took place on 15 November 2020. Judges were a panel of representatives from Indigital, IDX, Telstra, Microsoft, NITV and the National Library of Australia.

Winners Announcement

Winners were announced at a special event streamed live from the National Library of Australia via the Library Facebook page (@National.Library.of.Australia) on 18 November 2020. The event included a panel discussion. The panel included Jane Mackarell (K12 Director, Microsoft Australia), Luke Briscoe (Manager, IDX), Matt Heffernan (Developer, Indigital), Dr Marie-Louise Ayres (Director-General, National Library of Australia), and John Paul Janke (Co-Chair, National NAIDOC Committee).

Prizes were awarded for the following three categories:

  1. The Best Minecraft World – Prize: IDX Flint program package (valued at $25,000)
  2. The Best Showcase of Skills Learned Through the Challenge – Prize: Indigital Schools Program for 12 months (valued at $12,000)
  3. The Best Augmented Reality Character – Prize: $700 Microsoft Surface Go for the winning individual student.

About Indigital
Indigital is Australia’s first Indigenous Edu-tech company, specialising in technology development and digital skills training in augmented and mixed realities, artificial intelligence, machine learning, internet of things and geospatial technologies. We offer a meaningful pathway for Indigenous people into the digital economy and the creation of future technologies. If you would like to know more about Indigital’s digital skills training program for primary and high schools students you can visit their website at indigitalschools.com/

About the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) and Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX)

The National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) is a not-for-profit social enterprise that aims to build capability and create opportunities with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia. Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) was co-founded and designed by the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) and the Telstra Foundation in 2013 to unlock digital world opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The IDX Initiative seeks to inspire, build and connect the next generation of Indigenous entrepreneurs and digital makers through sustainable community led programs and collaborations. Through our flagship national program IDX Flint IDX seeks to inspire the interest, ideas and talent of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in making digital technology.  www.ncie.org.au/idx/

Schools invited to participate in the pilot challenge:

School Location 
Bruny Island District School TAS
Caboolture State School QLD
Chapman Primary School ACT
Eidsvold State School QLD
Ermington West Primary School NSW
Gordon Primary School VIC
Governor Stirling Senior High School WA
Holy Family Primary School QLD
Horsley Park Primary School NSW
Kalkie State School QLD
Kyabram State School VIC
Leeton High School NSW
Margaret Hendry School ACT
Melton Specialist School VIC
Merredin College WA
Mossman State School QLD
Plumpton Public School NSW
South Grafton High School NSW
St Michaels State School Manilla, NSW
St Peters Primary School Inglewood, WA
Tagai State College (Erub Campus) Thursday Island QLD
Woorabinda State School QLD
Yirrkala Bilingual School NT
National Library of Australia ACT