Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Minecraft in the Classroom, or, Things Look Differently From Different Viewpoints

With many thanks to Budder Champs, and Christmas Craft MC (@nutmegsuperboy). I am, as always, #poweredbykids.

My curiousity about Minecraft came from having a great grade 6 Math class this year. One of the most interesting things about BYOD in schools is the variety of digital experiences that kids bring with them to the classroom.  We can either harness them, or shut them down.  Too often, our tendency is probably to shut them down.

Case in point:  Minecraft.  How could this "game" be used to support learning in the classroom?  I had only a dim awareness of Minecraft, from seeing kids draw "creepers" in the classroom over the last few years. But being a new father, my time for games is, umm, not so much.

I decided to let my two students show me how they could do their math in Minecraft.  The video below came from them choosing to do a question from the Guide To Effective Instruction in Math, in a Minecraft environment, rather than on paper.
What you will notice if you watch the video is that they have physically represented the objects in the problem, used signposts for their text, and recorded their narration using Camtasia.  It is as complete a solution as you would see on the usual chart paper in the classroom.  The question is, where does this sort of task fit on the SAMR model? I think that is a healthy debate to have.

Recently, I had some Twitter discussion about SAMR, after taking a textbook page (grade 6), and letting some students do their work in Minecraft.
The thing here is, some students chose to EXACTLY substitute Minecraft work for paperwork.  As happens when you play in an open environment like Minecraft, others immediately hijacked the task and started building their own structures.

Here's the thing:  I want students to take apart the classroom work. I want them to get messy, to do their own thing, to break things apart and rebuild them.  I am never happier.  There is no "my assignment is holy writ" type of attitude here.  But students finding that they could build bigger, taller, and more interesting structures was a natural byproduct of opening up Minecraft to them in this case.

Next was a cube challenge (one of the curriculum expectations being drawing front, top, side, and 3D view of cube structures!)
The revelation for me here was that we probably don't need to draw front, top, and side views, when we can take screenshots in Minecraft.  It then became debatable how important is is to actually draw 3D views when you can build in Minecraft, then examine the structure from literally all angles.

Next was trying to build some criteria together for the larger piece of work.

3D Structures in Minecraft Blog Post

If I can paraphrase the curriculum expectation, I think "things look differently from different viewpoints" probably captures the mathematical big idea, or the reason for looking at 2D and 3D views. We attempted to wrestle down some criteria, but the list is probably by no means complete.  Our understanding of math as knowing, thinking, communication, and applying will always help, though (the achievement chart).

This is all a work in progress (and this blog post is intended to illuminate the pedagogical side of Minecraft, not the gaming side).  I guess what I am learning matches the big idea- things look differently from different viewpoints.  Yes, I realize that building structures is exactly what Minecraft is all about.  It just made the curriculum expectation a perfect fit in this case (as it would if you were teaching grade 3 or 7 science, and you looked at structures.

What other curriculum matches can you come up with?  How can we go about planning for our classrooms with Minecraft?

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