Today was a great day in our grade 4-5 STEM classroom. Last year I used MinecraftEDU with my students for several different lessons, and I tried a “perimeter and area building challenge,” but this year I’m much more pleased with the quality of conversations I’m having with students about these geometric concepts in a simplified and modified version of that lesson I’m calling our “Geometry MinecraftEDU Challenge.” These photos of whiteboard math from today’s classes may look messy, but they represent some SUPER conversations with my students who were figuring out the different ways they could build a corral in MinecraftEDU that has an EXACT perimeter of 24 blocks.
by Wesley Fryer
Whenever a student suggested a different dimensional possibility, we worked out the perimeter calculation together. For this reason, we have some correct “24 block perimeter calculations” and some that are incorrect. I could “feel” many light bulbs going on for several students during these conversations, as they compared their perceptions of this challenge (multiplying adjacent sides of a quadrilateral to calculate area) with the actual way we need to compute perimeter. This is the second day of a three day MinecraftEDU geometry building challenge, which is briefly summarized in this four slide Google Presentation. This slide below shows the three elements of the building challenge, and today we focused on part 2 which involves perimeter.
by Wesley Fryer
The other reason I think today’s lesson went so well is that I changed the MinecraftEDU world and world settings we’re using for the challenge. Instead of building in “Creative Mode,” which can be really distracting for experienced Minecraft students because many will try to put on armor, get potions, and work with other advanced blocks or objects that are entirely unrelated to our classroom challenge, this time we’re working in “MinecraftEDU mode.” This is not “survival” or “creative” mode, it’s kind of a hybrid. Students must mine for resources, but I started them out with some wood, wooden tools and torches. Student work in “MinecraftEDU mode” has been FAR more focused and on task than in past lessons, and I think I big reason is we are NOT in “Creative mode.” I also think the “Group Building Areas” MinecraftEDU world we’re using (FREE, hat tip to Kevin Jarrett) is a major positive, since it’s allowing students to work in segmented / separated areas (fenced off from each other with special MinecraftEDU fence blocks students can’t cross) with just a single partner. This has facilitated collaboration and minimized both griefing and off-task behavior as some students often “get into each other’s business” when we’ve used other worlds that are wide open in terms of where students can go.
I was absolutely thrilled with the quality of conversations I had with multiple student groups today, not only in our pre-MinecraftEDU building discussions in our classroom before we went to the computer lab, but also IN the computer lab as students were showing me their corrals. Most student groups had to make modifications because they did not initially get the “perimeter must be 24” measurement correct. This is fine and welcome, however, since it shows how they were not yet grasping the perimeter concept and it gave them opportunities to fix their “builds” and try again. Every group got it right, but some had to try two or three different times. That’s STEM! Iterative construction to achieve a goal!
I totally love it when students are able to grapple with math concepts like this in a concrete, meaningful context – and MinecraftEDU has provided that for us this week. I’m energized by today’s lesson and can’t wait to share it again with my other six classes tomorrow!
Check out more of my MinecraftEDU lesson ideas and resources on my STEM classroom curriculum wiki. Thanks to encouragement from Ben Wikoff (@bhwilkoff) in his 2014 K-12 Online Conference keynote for the “Stories for Learning” strand, I’ve also started recording 6 second stories at school of things I’ve learned. This week much of my new learning has focused on MinecraftEDU! Check out and subscribe to my new Vine channel to see more.
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