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Use Minecraft to teach math

By Jim Pike and John Stuppy 9/25/2015 Gaming STEM & STEAM

We know that kids love computer games and will spend hours on end totally engrossed in them. But “education games” are often neither educational nor much fun. The challenge is to find a way to organize, implement, manage, assess, guide and provide ample learning opportunities and still keep games fun.

Minecraft – a wildly popular game that kids just can’t stop playing – is changing that. I have found that Minecraft combined with design-based learning is the most powerful educational tool I have ever seen!

When I told my fifth grade class that I was writing this article, they were excited to help and began researching the educational benefits of Minecraft and came up with this list of why teachers need to incorporate Minecraft into their classrooms.

1) It allows kids to be creative.
2) It lets kids have fun while they learn.
3) It enables higher-level learning in math at lower grades.
4) It is played by students in more than 40 countries.
5) It can be used to teach math, science, language arts and social studies.
6) It can be used to teach adults as well as children.

Using Minecraft in the classroom

Like many of you, I was a not a gamer. A friend showed me Minecraft, and I saw right away how educators could use it to teach math concepts. So I bought the game, installed it and invited some friends to play along with me.

I was teaching third grade that year in inner-city Los Angeles and was determined to teach math with Minecraft. I was glad I did. Over a span of six months, my class’s benchmark test scores shot up from 18 percent to 84 percent in math and from 24 percent to 81 percent in English.

My students also went far beyond what I was supposed to teach them. The 8- and 9-year-olds built models of DNA, made engineered calculators and were doing fifth grade math at a class average.

Yet what was most surprising was the gradual cultural shift happening in my classroom – students wanted to learn because they were excited about what that knowledge would allow them to make. Soon enough, they were engaged in interest-driven, project-based learning with little prompting from me. They cared about engineering binary calculators or showing off their algebra skills by designing houses using algebra architecture. They were having the time of their lives and they were doing it at school.

When other teachers hear about my students’ academic growth, they often ask me to show them how they can teach with Minecraft. So I decided create a resource to help educators incorporate game-based learning into their classrooms. Minecraft can also help teachers easily teach and assess Common Core State Standards in a way that kids love!

That’s why I made it my mission to train as many teachers as possible in Minecraft. I created MinecraftPLC (professional learning community), a website and server where teachers can find Common Core aligned math lessons called Mathcraft, take professional development classes, and play and collaborate online with other teachers. The lessons are free but you have to sign in to request access. If you would like to play Mathcraft with me, please schedule a time on the online calendar or email me directly at joakleyiii@hotmail.com.

Minecraft primer

If you are just dipping your toe in to Minecraft, here’s how to get started.

Get the game. You can buy a Minecraft account on the Minecraft site for under $30 and play on a PC or Mac. In addition, the game is available on the PS4 and Xbox systems and there’s also pocket edition for tablets. When playing the computer-based game, you must have a two-button mouse.

Learn the controls. On your keyboard, the WASD keys control how you walk in Minecraft. You change your view by using the mouse. Use the spacebar to jump and fly and the shift key to come down.

Know your modes. There are to two kinds of modes in basic Minecraft: creative and survival. In creative mode, you have access to all the blocks in the game and can fly. Nothing will hurt or attack you, and it’s a nice environment to learn how to build. In addition, the game has four levels of difficulty: peaceful, easy, normal and hard.

Learn how to survive. In survival mode, you are born into a world with nothing! You must gather all your own materials by mining and crafting. Use a crafting table to make tools of the game so you can mine for more materials. Also try to survive the night by fighting off monsters.

Ask the wiki. The Minecraft Wiki offers a wealth of information related to Minecraft. Anyone can edit or add to the nearly 5,000 articles on the wiki. It’s easily searchable and will tell you anything you need to know about playing the game. 

Jim Pike is a fifth grade teacher at Albert Einstein Academy of Beverly Hills. He is also director of game-based learning at CodeRev Kids Learning Centers and the lead consultant on the Rio Hondo College MindCraft Grant Program. He developed the Minecraft Professional Learning community, which offers Common Core Standards aligned lesson plans and professional development workshops.

John Stuppy, Ph.D., is the CEO of EDUMETRIX, an education consulting firm, and is also a senior adviser to MinecraftPLC.com. He has created an online tutoring system and wrote a high school textbook about coding and computer-based tutoring. He has served in senior management roles at Sylvan Learning Systems, ETS, the Princeton Review and TutorVista.com.

Like (3)


Diane
973 days ago
This is great how you're showing some of the MANY ways to use Minecraft to teach math. There's also so much more you can do in really ANY curricular area. One thing you didn't mention, which I think is really important, is that there is a version of Minecraft designed specifically for education. It's called MinecraftEdu (minecraftedu.com) and it's an affordable option for almost any school setting. In fact, I think it makes Minecraft more accessible in many cases, since a teacher doesn't have to worry about whether students have their own Minecraft licenses/accounts, and MinecraftEdu offers additional teacher functions and blocks that can make using the game in a class setting much more manageable. Also, many schools/districts block access to Minecraft on their networks, unfortunately. However, with MinecraftEdu, the teacher runs the "server" him- or herself on the school's own network. So the issue of blocked websites and servers shouldn't come up. I'd encourage anyone who is excited by the possibilities your article explores to take a look at MinecraftEdu as a way to pursue these exciting learning adventures.