Jim Pike, a third grade teacher at Ascension Catholic School and director of education for learnbygaming.net, aligned mathematical equations to Minecraft structures to engage his students in mathematical processes as they created buildings and other structures in the game. Pike demonstrated his use of Minecraft during an edWeb webinar, and gave the audience step-by-step visual instructions.

Student progress on benchmark tests throughout the year increased, and in some cases drastically, after Pike incorporated Minecraft into his math instruction. For instance, student performance in area and perimeter, along with multiplication, saw a large jump.

Pike takes algebraic equations and uses them so that, when solved, the equations add up to structures such as The Parthenon. Students use formulas to calculate the total “blocks” and building materials they will need to create an entire structure, from stairs, columns, and more.

“Have a map, have something to follow, but don’t be afraid to blaze your own way at times,” Pike said. “Just make sure you use the standards as a guide: ‘Can my students do this after this lesson?’”

Exploring learning through Minecraft can help students take what they learn in the classroom and give it real-world perspective and conceptual understanding, which are Common Core priorities.

Pike offered a handful of recommendations when it comes to using Minecraft with students:

  • Start with a whole-class exploration using a projector and a single-player flat world so that students can watch the instructor build a structure
  • Give students the equations to solve and ask them to complete their math work before they begin playing Minecraft. Once they complete the equations to discover how many building materials they’ll need, they will be able to “request” that amount in the game when they begin playing
  • Next, take students into a computer lab or use school-issued devices in class, and let students create their structures
  • Have students create a “sign” in front of their structure with the completed equation(s) and their names on each sign
  • Give students time to play in Minecraft, but make sure they’ve completed their equations, built their structures, and “signed” their work

Teacher shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes in front of their students, Pike said. In fact, “it can be a really good learning experience for the kids” because Minecraft has small tics that require users to tweak equations to make everything work together, such as how to calculate building stairs around corners.

“The biggest effect Minecraft had was the change in student culture—they wanted to learn, they were really curious, and they enjoyed going to school,” Pike said.