“Through My Eyes” is a series of posts that highlights strands of the Minecraft Math experience from two unique perspectives: my eyes as a teacher, and Terri’s eyes as an administrator. We are hopeful that our shared yet unique experiences and perspectives adds interest and strength to our overall project. In Part 1 of this first installation, I shared some background behind the WHY and the HOW of Minecraft Math, while Pt. 2 will highlight celebrations and lessons learned from my first year of Minecraft Math.
The small group instructional model we used provided the foundation for success for a number of reasons. The 15 minute stations allowed for shorter, but more focused and effective mini-lessons and independent work. Even the shorter bursts of time brought a different energy to the Math classroom. Students needing movement knew that rather than an hour of sitting, they would experience 4 different stations with short transitions between each station. I strategically placed students on their Minecraft teams and these mixed groupings led to fewer interruptions and management challenges. Another important benefit of the small group set-up was the ability to give and receive immediate feedback to and from students. This allowed me to teach more responsively in the moment and for lessons ahead. I also learned that I’m simply a happier teacher when I have the chance to relate with my kids in small groups. It’s just more fun! Large-group settings can often be dominated by more outspoken students, and the smaller groups provide an easier space to connect with all students.
A Warmer Climate and a Shifting Mindset
Using Minecraft as a tool for learning in the classroom helped to shift the attitudes and experiences around Math. The day we launched the unit, there was so much excitement in the room. This was such a welcomed and needed change for students to truly be successful in Math. Rather than sighs and groans, there was a positive buzzing, an eagerness and anticipation around Math. Yes! I think my kids also appreciated that we recognized their interests and showed a desire to meet them where they were at as learners- many of them preferring a hands-on approach to learning (see survey results below). The fact that we stepped out of our comfort zones and asked our students to teach us about something they loved was important, too. The survey also showed that on an effort scale of 1-5, 47% of students scored themselves at 5/5, while 80% of students scored themselves at either 4 or 5 out of 5. There were not any students scoring less than 3 out of 5.
Of course, without marked academic growth, the efforts around restructuring my approach to Math and establishing a positive mindset would be fruitless. Based on the pre and post assessments, we saw significant growth in students meeting the outcomes studied. The shorter, scaffolded assignments were more effective. Also, providing students with immediate feedback in the small-group settings was also important. The assessments were varied: daily assignments, quizzes, a unit end written assessment and then a group performance-based assessment. This is highlighted in the video below, where students were asked to respond to questions around Math concepts evident in their Math world. Students also completed self-assessments and peer-assessments at the end of the unit, reflecting on their growth and their learning experiences. Another important result of Minecraft Math was the opportunity for students to build valuable teamwork skills. Many were reflective about this aspect of the experience in their self-assessments. Their observations are also included in this summative video:
The Environmental Factor
Simply put, we wasted a lot of paper throughout the process, and I know that I can guide my students towards a more responsible use of our resources. In my second round of Minecraft Math, I will teach intentionally about our paper and printing resources and set up guidelines around the frequency and quantity of paper printed. We can also reuse paper because you can only see one side of the paper-nets when they are folded. Another challenge that we faced was the storing of the Minecraft paper creations. Each group had a crate that they stored their work in, but the paper-net creations are quite fragile and they were sometimes crushed and then students had to recreate portions of their worlds. This slowed the entire process and led to frustration among groups. We need a better way to store their work in Round 2, and students also need more coaching and reminders about how to care for their work, and for the work of their peers. Some groups also had very slow starts and found themselves rushed nearing the end of the project. This time, I would like to do one or two group-check ins, perhaps doing a video assessment midway through the unit rather than only at the end.
Helping All Students to Find Success
While the majority of students were successful in meeting the geometry and measurement outcomes, not all students experienced success working with the paper-nets. Some groups identified that some team members were excellent at creating the nets, and found specific roles for those struggling with the sometimes very particular work (for example, the bigger blocks are much easier for anyone to create compared to the small characters). Some struggled with this and the workload was carried by one or two students while the others did a lot of watching. I want to do a better job of coaching teams to find roles for all students to feel successful and important throughout the experience this year. Having students give each other feedback through peer assessments could also be another way to help increase accountability between group members.
We finished the geometry and measurement written assessments before the Christmas break, but there was almost a month gap before the performance assessment was completed. While many students were easily able to recall important concepts, the gap in time affected weaker Math students. At the same time, it was interesting to see how students retained their learning. This time, I want to try my best to ensure that students are given the opportunity to complete all aspects of the summative assessment soon after the completion of the unit.
I’m very interested to see how adding the online version of MinecraftEdu affects the overall learning experience for students! I look forward to reflecting on Year 2 of Minecraft Math!
Do you have any suggestions for us as we plan for Round 2? What are some of your best strategies for engaging students in positive group work experiences? We’d love feedback on how we can best improve the experience for all students!