Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Mathlandia Success! But More Concerns.

Well the first group to use the Mathlandia map went through today, and I have got to say I was pretty impressed with how well it went. Yet again I came across the issue of students not reading the instructions, and therefore not having a clear understanding of what it was they were expected to do. I am not sure how to remedy this, other than me not giving them the instructions in real life but making them go and read the instructions given to them in-game.

So when a student says "I don't know what to do" and I ask whether they have read the instructions and they reply "no", instead of then explaining what it is I expect them to do for the activity I need to get in the habit of telling them to go back and read the instructions. Of course there are issues with this approach, one being the time it takes for the student, which realistically is time well spent for them, but less 'free' time will be had at the end of the activity for them, which I guess is a way of ensuring they read the instructions first time around.

The other issue is those students who have low literacy levels and cannot read very well. These students will of course still need me to verbalise the instructions for the task, oh how I cannot wait for a 'link block' to be included in MinecraftEdu that would allow me to record myself giving the instructions and then students could choose either read the instructions or listen to them, or both.

I started the class on their Mathlandia journey but had to go and teach my own class half way through the hour and a half that they had in game. So after the class I rushed back to get the feedback from the other teacher, he was blown away at how engaged the kids were and also how the vast majority of them were on task. He had some critical feedback on the map structure, in particular the 'end point' for students at this stage is still the teacher, and having 22 odd students throwing their work on the ground trying to get you to look at it so that they can get their token can be very confusing for a veteran player let alone for a first timer (which he was).

So I need to come up with another way of 'ending' the task, but I think there are limitations on the NPC's that are going to prevent me from making it completely standalone (maybe the inclusion of hoppers in 1.5 will help). So we discussed the option of having a 1-student at a time room, so that each student had to wait 'in-line' to get their work checked prior to getting the reward token to finish the quest. Another option I threw on the table was a teleport location where the teacher can go, and teleport one student at a time to them, check their work, give them a token, and then the student can click a teleport block and be on their way. I think this last one will be the easiest for me to set up, but I will probably add this after I run my class tomorrow, just to see if experience in game counts for anything.

So that is the good news, now for the concerns. If you have read my previous post about the thoughts I am having in terms of why I teach what I teach, this is a continuation of that thought process, and is perhaps even more disconcerting for me as a teacher, and also how I feel about my job.

So we have a 'test' that allows us to measure a students numeracy ability and narrow it down to a roughly accurate estimate (like that??) of what year that student is working at in terms of their mathematical ability with numbers. My year 10 students sat that test on Monday, the results are outright depressing. I have no student working at a year 10 level in my year 10 maths class, the top student is at the beginning of year 9, the majority of students are at around late year 7-early year 8 and I have a few students working at an upper primary school level, so grade 5-6 and another couple of students even lower than this.

So how does a student get to year 10 maths while working with numbers at a grade 3 or 4 level? I don't know, I think it is a systemic problem of automatic progression which I have no control over. So that begs the questions of what do I do with these students working about 4 years below where I am supposed to be aiming my teaching? Now keeping in mind that technically speaking I am supposed to be preparing these students to do VCE maths next year, a course that is much stricter and in the final year is assessed against the entire state. How am I supposed to get a student from grade 5 level up to year 10 level in 8 months? The depressing answer is I have no hope. I am confident that if I teach to their ability and throw out the year 10 course I can bring them up more than a year in that time but I really think that far is an unrealistic goal.

So again why am I teaching these students geometry if they do not know how a formula works, they don't know how to work with numbers to solve simple worded problems and most likely a fair amount of them still don't know the order of operations? For the test, because that is the course that has been decreed by those in power higher than my school and I should tow the line is probably the most honest answer, and an uncomfortable one.

I spoke to one of the other year 10 maths teachers today, her response to my astonishment at the wide variety of ability in my class was to say that she had the same problem. That was it. I am going to try and sit down with her and have a discussion about what we are teaching and why, as I really cannot see the point of continuing to teach the year 10 course when possibly 2-4 out of about 25 students are going to be able to effectively understand what I am teaching, and utilise it in a real life situation.

Am I being an alarmist? Have I given up on these students? I hope neither of these questions are answered with a yes, I believe that all of these students can achieve success, but not all at the level I am supposed to be getting them to achieve. This whole thing is making part of me think that perhaps I am getting a bit jaded and need to take a break from teaching and get some perspective, but the other part of me is thinking that I am perhaps thinking more clearly now about the pedagogy than ever before and what I can do to help students rather than just continuing to do what I am expected to do.

So as not to end on a negative note, I have some positive that came out of my maths class today. The models I talked about in the previous post were a hit for the blind student, in fact now I need to design and print more for the test I am about (or at least I am supposed to be about) to set these students so that he can get a real idea of the shapes and what they are made up of. They even helped me explain how to work out the problems to some of the other students in the class that were struggling. So I will put that in as a win, and thank you for your time, I know this was a very long post, so if you made it to the end great work! As always feel free to comment below and share your thoughts.


  1. This is indeed a very frustrating situation to find yourself in, Elfie.

    My only advice is actually almost the same for both situations: as much as you can, have the students teaching themselves and each other.

    When they're in MC, and they have not all read the directions, freeze them and say "we can't go any father until everyone knows what is expected." And then ask them to explain what needs to be done, what the task at hand is, the steps, and the purpose, if they can figure that out at that point.

    With the content, it sounds like it is going to need to be somewhat individualized if that is possible, so maybe having higher-ability students teach lower-ability students, or assigning each student a topic to teach to the rest of the class, would help you address their needs more specifically. You learn best when you teach someone else. If you're the one doing all the teaching, then you're also the one doing all the retaining.

    Finally, I'd say that if you can find real-world applications to tie to the maths concepts, that helps kids who are struggling to both understand the concept's application better and to have a reason to believe it's important to learn. I count simulation in Minecraft as "real-world" also. So keep looking for ways to use the game to illustrate and teach the maths concepts. But also let them know that being able to "play" in class can be used as somewhat of a reward: if they're not doing their best outside the game, you'll need to limit their time inside the game for a while. Use it as currency, though it can in fact be the most rewarding, engaging, and motivating way to teach and reach your students. If you can make it something they're willing to work harder to earn, and then sort of trick them into learning even more when they're "playing," you can have the best of both "worlds."

    I hope you're able to solve this issue and also put your mind at ease. You don't have to solve all the problems; just get each student to grow some and use that to motivate them to work even harder.

  2. I like alot of what Diane said, except maybe the restriction part.

    You could test them in game to see if they have read the instructions. Where the student needs to go through doors confirming their understanding if the instructions. If arranged properly the following door tests would let the player their previous answers were logically wrong.

    This would of course need to be done one student at a time or mutlipe copies occuring at the same time (via MCEdit) to prevent students blindly following other students.

    Specifcally for the Experimental Probability senerio. Instead of having them write out what Theoritical Probability is, you could have them test what is. Ie. Place them in a senerio where they need to apply it.

    A (Bad) Example might having them bet all of their currency on the end results.
    -They would allways be able to get 1 currency if they had none.
    -Some penalty would exist for staying in the senerio for an extended time
    -They would only be able to leave the senerio if they earned 2 currency.

    A student with good understanding (and doesn't have a gambling problem...) would be able to choose the odds based on what they observed and then exit immediantly. This should probably follow up with a test to let them select what the defination is.

  3. Hi! I just started MinecraftEdu with third and fourth grade students here in New Jersey, US of A. I am trying to use Mathlandia but when I enter I do not see the blue tower, but a house in the sky with redstone torches...Call be stupid but I cannot figure it out! Has the map changed?

    Thanks, love the program.


    1. Hi Joe, the map claiming to be Mathlandia is not really it, apologies, but it was a test upload I did when the map sharing tool was first being tested. I am trying to update the map to the map sharing tool now, but it appears it is not working from behind my school proxy, so it may have to wait until I get home tonight.

      On second though it appears I cannot update the template on the system, have asked the devs if I am doing something wrong but they are all asleep right now. So option 2 email me stephen at minecraftedu dot com and I will send through the map file.