EarthCraft was created by Aitken College’s head of humanities, Ben Lawless. It is loosely based on the World Peace Game developed by internationally-renowned education expert, John Hunter.
EarthCraft gives students an opportunity to control the world and deal with a number of ‘Earth Challenges’.
These challenges deal with military, political, ethical, environmental and economic issues and include border disputes, land rights, water issues, nuclear meltdowns and inflation.
“I developed EarthCraft over a summer, making up pages of rules and scenarios (with handcraft and 3D printing) over a long, busy summer holiday,” Mr Lawless said.
“I pitched it to my school and, even though I was only in my third year at Aitken, they ran with it. I’m lucky to be at a school that allows teachers to be creative and find new ways to engage young curious minds.”
Mr Lawless won the Hume Graduate Teacher of the Year Award in 2014 and used the prize-money to travel to Austria, where John Hunter was holding a masterclass.
“We watched him run the game with some Austrian students as we learnt about the game and his teaching philosophy,” Mr Lawless said.
“I showed him my game and he was amazed; no-one else he knows had tried to make their own game, they all just used his after training with him.”
This year, Year 6 Aitken College students began playing EarthCraft one hour every fortnight as part of their geography classes.
They are placed in different teams: six continent teams, the World Bank, the UN, Greenpeace, the hacktivist group Anonymous and ‘the Fates’ (two students who help run the game).
Students can table treaties, announce war and formulate policies. The core mechanism of the game revolves around solving the Earth Challenges while balancing finite resources such as food, energy, steel and cash.
“The students have enjoyed the game immensely. They’re so engaged they don’t notice when we run over time and start using their recess and lunch – in fact they don’t even mind!” Mr Lawless said.
“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – they enjoy having freedom to do things their way. As one student put it ‘Normally the teachers make all the decisions’.”
Mr Lawless said the students have embraced the challenge of solving complex issues that world leaders grapple with.
“The students have been frustrated at times, learning to negotiate seemingly intractable problems with people they don’t normally interact with,” he said.
“They love negotiating and they like that the game is difficult. They enjoy finding out about problems that can or have existed in the real world. They like that it is a totally different way of having a class.”
EarthCraft attracted the attention of Hume City Council Mayor Helen Patskiatheodorou, who visited Aitken College in December to watch students play the game. Ms Patskiatheodorou was impressed with the knowledge and negotiating skills displayed by the students.
Mr Lawless has begun working on another game, Planetology, with other teachers at Aitken College.
“It will be of a similar style but set in an alternate planet and is solely devoted to dealing with earth-like environmental problems,” Mr Lawless said.