2. Create your own visual, conceptual math world.
I’ve tried to use base ten blocks before because they’ve got a lot of great conceptional knowledge, but they’re just a nightmare to use—to get them to fit in and take out, and with the kids always messing up each other’s blocks. But with Minecraft, the blocks are digital so the kids can’t mess each other up, if you know how to manage them, and the bonus is that the students are incredibly engaged. Then you can throw in the fun part. You can let them PvP (fight) and chase each other in their world. The structures they’ve just made make a lot of fun things to hide behind, like funky-looking trees based on prime factorization or stacks of blocks in patterns that represent long division. It’s kind of a conceptual math world.
3. You can use Minecraft, even without access to computers.
We were only able to play Minecraft in the computer lab twice a week but that was perfect because I just ran math class using Minecraft as the lesson on those days. On other days, we’d be doing similar things. The kids would have graphing paper and would make their models with colored pencils and crayons and we would play math. I was really trying to teach them how to read and write algebra and to look at math as a different language.
4. Minecraft is just one creative tool in the toolbox.
In my third-grade class, we did a lot of tracking and graphing slopes, and I turned it into a maker activity as well. We learned how to read rise over run, and how to build a slope in Minecraft. Then we chopped up a bunch of different cardboard boxes and made racecar ramps at different slopes around the classroom, and ran averages on how far the racecar would travel with each slope—and this was a third-grade classroom.
5. Let the dog drive—at least sometimes.
One way to get started is just to try a whole class lesson and to see how the kids respond to it. And be prepared to let the dog drive at times—meaning when the class is playing the game, let them take control and just play. Give them their time but take yours as well. If you need a jumping-off point to get started, look for Minecraft lessons online, or see mine on the website Educade. The Parthenon lesson I created is one example. It turns algebra into a puzzle and it gives students simple instructions on how to build something cool. (There’s also a video that explains why the formulas actually work).
6. Use Minecraft to help change your classroom culture into something students love.
By far the greatest effect Minecraft has had on my students was a change in the classroom culture and attitudes about education. When we were preparing for our benchmark test I gave them ten Common Core word problems for homework. When I put them on our Edmodo page, they got mad at me. Mathcraft—at least the way I use it in the classroom—is not all in a video game. There is a lot of reading and writing of algebra and word problems. Before, they used to complain and give up when they had to do similar problems out of textbook. But now my kids turned even that part of the curriculum into a game and can not put down the pencil.
Jim Pike formerly taught third grade at Ascension Catholic School in Los Angeles.
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