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’ 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.

IMAGE: Through the Challenge students learnt how to create 3D Augmented Reality characters.

The Challenge is the brainchild of Indigital Founder and Cabrogal woman Mikaela Jade. Designed using the foundations of the Indigital Schools program and 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.

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.

Challenge reaches our nation’s capital

The winners of the challenge were announced at a live event at the National Library of Australia on Wednesday 18th November 2020 that included a panel discussion. You can view a recording of the event here.

IMAGE: IDX Manager Luke Briscoe joined Jane Mackarell (K12 Director, Microsoft Australia), Matt Heffernan (Developer, Indigital), Dr Marie-Louise Ayres (National Library of Australia), and John Paul Janke (National NAIDOC Committee) to discuss access to cultural teaching and digital futures.

First prize for the Best Minecraft Education Edition World was awarded to Kalkie State School located in Bundaberg, QLD.

Samantha Ephraims from Kalkie State School said the students enjoyed the experience and opportunity to participate in the challenge. “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.” Sam said.

IMAGE: Looking to the future: Students at Kalkie State School create what they hope their hometown will look like in 2030 using Minecraft Education Edition.

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.  It has set the foundation for a next generation of Australians to embrace Australia’s Indigenous culture.

IMAGE: The winning entry included Kangaroos, Koalas and even magpies created by the students using Tynker.

Sam said the students incorporated astronomy, science and history into their world and it quickly became far bigger than anything she had anticipated.

“It gave us an opportunity and purpose for reaching out into our community to ask for traditional knowledge on a range of things – language, food tech and architecture. I saw students go off on their own to hunt down facts and images. I know that this curiosity and interest will be with them in the days to come, despite the project now being finished.” Sam said.

IMAGE: The winning world included a cultural centre where community can come together and learn.

As winners of the Challenge, Kalkie State School will receive an IDX Flint Program package, valued at $25,000 to further develop their skills and creativity in using and creating with technology. The school and community will join a network of 30 IDX Flint sites located in regional and remote communities across Australia working together to inspire, build and connect the next generation of Indigenous digital makers and creators.

IDX Flint communities take part in the Challenge

In the event’s inaugural year, Indigital and IDX leveraged their existing networks to invite schools and communities from across Australia to participate in the pilot challenge. The Challenge team (Indigital and IDX) have been working in 31 rural, remote, and urban communities all around Australia to provide training for teachers in schools engaged in the Challenge.

NCIE Director of Operations John Leha said the challenge is an exciting opportunity for IDX’s network of Flint communities. “Collaborations like this only strengthen connections and opportunities for our Flint communities. We are really excited to collaborate with the team at Indigital to bring this challenge to life.” John said.

Erub (Darnley Island) was one of the IDX Flint communities invited to participate in the challenge. In October 2020 ‘Friend of IDX’ Torres Webb, IDX team member Kerris McLiver, and Indigital team member Peta Rowlands travelled to Erub (Darnley Island) to deliver the program at Erub Erwer Uteb (Darnley Island Campus), Tagai State College.

Image: Erub (Darnley Island) is situated in the eastern section of the Torres Strait, and is one of 30 IDX Flint communities nationally.

Over four days the team worked with 60 students exploring Microsoft’s Paint 3D and Minecraft Education Edition.

Torres Strait Islander man Torres Webb said the opportunity to revisit Erub and work with his community and the team to deliver the program on country was an exciting experience, made even more special during a challenging year due to COVID-19. 

Our communities deeply appreciate the face-to-face follow-up community visits in further building upon skills developed previously.  What is great about the work that IDX does, and its success is that it is all built around relationships, trust, respect and reciprocation, all key foundational values for us as Indigenous people.” Torres said.

IMAGE: The students’ creations were inspired by the story of Kos and Abob: The Fishtrap Makers. Torres Strait Islander man and ‘Friend of IDX’ Torres Webb shared the story of how the two brothers (Kos and Abob) built all the fishtraps around Mer (Murray Island), Waier, Dauar, Erub (Darnley Island) and Ugar (Stephen Island), so that everyone had enough fish to eat.

Leading the digital workshops was Indigital team member and IDX Champion Peta Rowlands. Peta is a Wangkangurru/Yarluyandi woman from Birdsville, QLD. Peta said the opportunity to spark the interest and ideas of the young people in using and creating with the different technology was really exciting.

“The creations and ideas the students were coming up with using Paint 3D and Minecraft Education during our week visiting and delivering workshops on Erub was mind blowing” Peta said.

IMAGE: Once the students created their character using play doh they learnt how to use Paint 3D to create their 3D augmented reality character inspired by the story of the Fishtrap Makers.

IDX first met Peta through an IDX Flint program visit to Birdsville, QLD. Peta admits before meeting the IDX team and working at Indigital, she had never considered a career in the tech industry. Now she is sharing her passion and knowledge with communities across Australia through her role and involvement in the NAIDOC Minecraft Education Challenge.

IMAGE: Students created and designed their 3D characters using Paint 3D.

“IDX is not only helping remote communities step into the digital age by sharing new and amazing technology with us, while building and strengthening Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s confidence in considering a career in the tech industry. But they also partner with Indigenous owned and managed businesses like Indigital Schools, to help establish community connections and support the total smashing of goals and achieving amazing outcomes.” Peta said.

IMAGE: IDX Champion and Indigital team member Peta Rowlands shares her Minecraft world.

Stepping up to the challenge

Yirrkala Bilingual School located in North East Arnhem Land also took up the opportunity to participate in the challenge. IDX has worked with Yirrkala since the team delivered the Flint program on country in 2018.

Kayti Denham, Middle Years Teacher at Yirrkala Bilingual School said while the challenge was a learning curve for both the staff and students, they enjoyed the challenge to participate and she was delighted by what it inspired.

IMAGE: Students at Yirrkala Bilingual School get to work creating their 3D Augmented Reality Characters

“The NAIDOC Week Minecraft Challenge has been an intense learning curve for both the staff and students here in North East Arnhem Land. On taking up the Challenge, our students have little familiarity with urban landscapes but strong connections to their homelands and the cultural stories that connect them to their long history with beautiful coastal environments.”

Yirrkala Bilingual School student, Wilirriya Burarrwanga, ​received 2nd place for his Augmented Reality Character.

“What we were able to observe as teachers was the subtle learnings, the sequential following of English language instructions and the guided development of creative curiosity that contributes to the building of transferable skills and there was a real sense of ownership and pride when goals of both Maker’s Empire and Minecraft creation had been achieved,” Kayti said.

List of winners and runners up

Best Minecraft Education Edition World
Winner: Kalkie State School
Runner Up: Ermington West Public School
Runner Up: St Peters Primary School
Runner Up: Merredin College
Runner Up: Gordon Primary School

Best Augmented Reality Characters
1st Place:  Kody Pope​, Age 13​, Eidsvold State School, Qld
2nd Place:  Wilirriya Burarrwanga, ​14 years old​, Yirrkala Bilingual School, NT
3rd Place:   Thomas Lucassen​, Melton Specialist School, VIC
Runner Up:  Iggy Gavrilovic​ (11 years old​) – Gordon Primary School, ACT
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).

Best Challenge Narrative:
Winner: Bruny Island District School
Runner Up: Merredin College
Runner Up: Plumpton Primary School
Runner Up: Ermington West Public School

Find out more about the NAIDOC Minecraft Education Challenge
Keep updated on future NAIDOC Minecraft Education Challenges