Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Wins So Far.

As I regularly do with any new project, or MinecraftEdu world, I have been reflecting on what has been accomplished in the time I have had with my Pre-CAL Numeracy class, and the 180 minutes that the students have had access to the MinecraftEdu world that I have created. The more I think about what has happened over the last few weeks, and chat to the EduCrew folk about what they heard during their Skype the happier I get.

If I reflect on the process of learning, using something called the e5 instructional model, which for those not in the same educational system as me is "a reference point for school leaders and teachers to develop a deeper understanding of what constitutes high quality teacher practice in the classroom."(follow the link to see the model). The first step is to engage, only once students are engaged can quality learning happen.

A primary focus of the project was to engage students in a different kind of learning. The level of interest and engagement seen during my classes is higher than anything I have seen at this level of schooling, keep in mind that I am not a teacher of the 'cool' subjects that the majority of students enjoy, like Physical Education, or Wood Work, but Science and Maths. So when I say that the students are involved in a Maths project, and wanting to be there, that is a huge win.

Students are reflecting on what they want or need to be more successful in the project. There are students, who have never done homework before, doing homework to gain extra cash to buy more items in the game. They are focusing on tasks for 90 minutes, normally these students would not be able to focus more than 5-10 minutes in a standard classroom. Not only are the students more conscious of their own behaviour, they have put forth requests for me to add additional fines and rewards to balance out the system. In essence they are showing investment into the project.

So the students are engaged, the next step on the e5 is to explore. Now this is natively in Minecraft, but students are already exploring the worlds market. They are beginning to explore ideas about what business they would like to run in the world, that will get them more money. They are exploring how to cost jobs, how to convert a 2d floor plan into a 3 dimensional building. Students are also exploring some of the tools available to them to manage finances, like Google Spreadsheet.

What about explain? Well students are working towards explaining their house costing, justifying their loan application. Just through managing their budget they could explain what some of the key terms mean; income, expenses, fines, balance, budget, unit cost. As we move further along with the project what students will have explored, and be able to explain, should grow much larger.

How are students going to elaborate as they move through the project? When students are writing their loan application, or business application, they are going to have to not only explain their budget, but elaborate on how that budget shows that they can afford the loan they are applying for, or how they business is going to be profitable.
The final part of the e5 talks about evaluating. Students will be evaluating their budgets weekly, reflecting on their purchases, were they the right purchase to make, or should they have done something different. They will be evaluating their business for viability, and hopefully if they decide that it is going down the gurgler, so to speak, they will jump ship, or begin another business to help prop themselves up a bit longer.

So if I were to write a list of what I have seen the students accomplish over the last 3 weeks it would look like the following.

Creating a safe learning environment:
No swearing
No bullying
Don't deliberately break things
Don't hit others
Support others

Life skills:
Bring all required equipment
Be on time
Be respectful to all
The value of money (even virtual)
The value of work
Managing accounts and passwords

Unit Cost
Bulk Cost
Bulk Discount
Think about purchases
Costing a job

Where to from here?? Well I want to see this list grow. Hopefully by the end of the project this list will take up a lot more space and there will be some serious Maths learning in there. The next topic, now that the basics are set up, and most of the teething issues are out of the way, is percentages. This will be incorporated into the students loan applications. Following that, plans, isometric and 3D drawings. Inadvertently along the way students have picked up, or will pick up, the applications of area and perimeter to buildings and costings.

Another activity I will be getting the students to do is to work out what the bulk purchase discount is in my store, as a percentage. How much more authentic can a task get without paying with real money? If a student undercuts my prices later on, students will be asked to work out how much money they can save by purchasing from the student rather than me for different amounts.

Thanks for reading, I will try to reflect more often on the learning happening within this project and share the additions to the above list. As always feel free to leave a comment below.


  1. Sounds great Elfie, your students are very lucky to have someone like you educating them. Maths should be about application and not repetitive worksheets and questions. Making the math real to them, getting them invested, makes it all the more valuable and authentic. Keep up the good work, cannot wait to see how things turn out.

  2. Interesting project.

    The critical missing element in organized education today is the ability to teach students how to learn.

    Rote memorization and regurgitation, as we all know, is not 'learning'.

    Demonstrative parallel examples of key concepts that allow the student to relate to the material in a setting or scenario with which they can make concrete connections is certainly a good step towards helping them understand the material and apply it properly against differing situations and models; something that rote memorization and regurgitation can never do.

    Your approach does seem to be a valid method of returning to the concept of teaching the student to learn.

    Anyone can get a chimpanzee to understand that 2 apples and 2 apples is 4 apples.

    It takes something extra to get the student to understand *WHY* it is 4 apples.

    It looks like you have hit on a modern-day way of doing that very thing.

    Congratulations, and best of success in this endeavor.

  3. John and Shane, thank you both for your kind words. After writing this blog post I had a great discussion with some of the students involved in this project as to their feelings about what they have accomplished and learned in the last 3 weeks, of the the great things about that discussion is that they confirmed my feelings about what they had accomplished.

    However the best thing about the discussion is that they ended up explaining to me why they valued the project and how it was helping them enjoy their learning again. I really need to transcribe that discussion and consolidate what they said into a new blog post.

    I am also hoping to get the students writing reflective journal entries each week on what it is they learned or accomplished throughout the week. If they choose to blog in a public forum I will be linking them here and sharing via twitter. If they choose to only share it with me I will be quoting parts and sharing that. So hopefully a lot more student voice about this project will be coming soon.

    Thanks again to both of you for your kind words and support.