Friday, 25 October 2013

Minecraft in Math: Problem Solving and Failing without Fear

I noticed something a little peculiar this year. Whenever it was time for math, there was an almost universal groan. My class had a phobia, there was a real fear of failing. When doing a problem in class, if they did not get the correct answer on their first attempt, students felt that it was too hard. They were so worried about getting something wrong, that their creative thought process was stymied.

There had to be a way of motivating the class to feel like they can take on the challenge of math, and to do so with a positive attitude. I tried to think of a situation where children regularly have to problem solve and fail in order to figure things out. With a built-in structure that allows them to start over until they find success. 

Video Games!

Video games have a built-in structure that challenges the player enough to make the game interesting, and to make them want to succeed. But when they fail, they are able to start the level over with confidence, and knowledge gained by their progress in that level up to that point. Video games help them to accept failure and realize that by persevering, and learning from their mistakes, they can succeed. 

I wanted to engage the students using real life math and by attempting to use Minecraft for creating our graphs. We graphed the results of our food drive. As they created their graphs errors were made, but the groans and furious sounds of erasers rubbing out mistakes was gone. Students calmly smashed blocks that weren't working, redoing their graph with nary a complaint to be heard. The expectation was that it wouldn't all work perfectly the first time and they were prepared to back out, see the big picture, and swoop back in to rebuild their graph.

As a BYOD class, there is never only one way to complete a task. Students had the option of using Minecraft, interactive whiteboard apps, or paper and pencil. In some instances students showed their work in two different ways to decide which worked best. 

It was not universal, diversity reigned. Some students preferred making the graph on graph paper, some liked the graph paper background in Educreations, and others liked the constuctivist approach of Minecraft. At the end of the day, everyone had successfully created a graph. They had succeeded beyond my expectaions, and they were eager for the next challenge in Math.

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