Guest Post: Top Ten Tasks for Minecraft Math with Brian Aspinall and Matthew Oldridge

December 20, 2017 Alex Fleck

Minecraft: Education Edition, featuring Code Builder and the Minecraft Agent

 

Imagine a world. Imagine a big, open world with nothing in it to the endless horizon but green grass. Can we turn this place into our own personal mathematical world, using just the tools available to us in Minecraft? We think we can. Seymour Papert spoke of a "Mathland," where kids, using the tools of computing, create entire worlds where they're immersed in mathematics.

 

An open Minecraft landscape, featuring a blank space for students to explore and create

 

Minecraft can be one such “mathematical world.” It's a powerful tool for mathematical creation and problem-solving in our classrooms. This post will give you practical ideas for how to incorporate Minecraft into your math classroom as a powerful thinking tool and digital manipulative.

 

In this world, we can walk around and make mathematics. We can examine the mathematical objects we place around us and use signposts to mark them. We can pose and answer questions in this world. We can place signposts to mark our thoughts, ideas, and questions. Using screen-capture, annotation, and video recording tools we can explain our thinking and reasoning about interesting mathematics problems.

 

The basic unit of building in Minecraft is one cubic metre. That makes it a great “virtual manipulative” to use for a variety of math tasks across a variety of topics and areas.

 

There are plenty of mathematical areas where Minecraft can work as a vehicle for questions, tasks, or challenges:

  • surface area
  • volume
  • fractions
  • growing patterns
  • graphing (making bar graphs)
  • multiplication (showing arrays or using the area model).

Follow along as we show you some questions or objects that could be created in Minecraft. We'll take you on a tour of some areas of mathematics that can be a part of your or your students’ mathematical worlds.

1. Volume or Capacity Tasks

A tank of water that can be used to help students understand the concept of volume

 

By examining this swimming pool, we should be able to calculate precisely the volume of water the squid is swimming in. The signpost asks how much water is in the aquarium? 

2. Relating Surface Area and Volume

A rectangular prism in Minecraft, which can be used to study shapes of different dimensions

 

Create all the possible rectangular prism structures you can with exactly 24 cubes. Which one has the most surface area? The least? How do you know? Can you do the same for 36 cube structures? 

3. Creating Representations of Growing Patterns

Minecraft. Create the first 3 terms of a growing pattern in Minecraft. Use screenshots to record yourself talking about the ways that your pattern grows.

Or, you could place a prompt in your shared mathematical world and see what your students do.

Minecraft blocks used to interrogate patterns

 

The next pattern represents the cubed numbers: 1, 8, and 27. Your students will notice how quickly the cubes are growing. That’s the power of exponentiation!

 

Exploring exponentiation with Minecraft blocks

 

You could place your pattern beside its bar graph representation...

 

Using Minecraft blocks to explore the relationship between bar graphs and patterms

 

You can get at the ideas of constants and variables visually, depending on how you “see” the pattern growing. 

 

A sign within the Minecraft environment featuring the text "Yellow is the constant. Green Changes."

 

Signposts can be used to show our thinking. Signposts can be where we put our thinking or ask questions of our own in our mathematical worlds. 

4. Fractions

Create your own fraction representation. Consider this one!

 

Using Minecraft blocks to explore fractions

 

What fraction is purple? Gold? Explain your reasoning using screen annotation or screencast.

5. Bar Graphing

Minecraft is a unique bar-graphing tool. It can fully bring the bar graph into 3 dimensions, making the height of each bar more meaningful. You could add signposts as labels for your graph.

 

Creating bar graphs with Minecraft blocks

6. Spatial Reasoning With Cubes

A common spatial reasoning task is to ask the following. How many unique 4 cube structures can you build? How many unique 5 cube structures can you build? In the real world, we might run out of snap cubes. In Minecraft, we have a limitless supply. 

 

Exploring spatial reasoning with limited building blocks

7. Designing Structures to Scale

In this activity students are asked to create different arrangements of boxes that are to be loaded onto a flatbed. With Minecraft, we can have students first create the trucks to scale the different loads. This might be a great way to engage parents or community members. Imagine measuring the size of a flatbed truck in the school parking lot! 

 

Using digital flatbed trucks in Minecraft to explore the use of space

8. Social Studies & Growing Patterns: Building Castles

In this activity students create a castle style game where each floor contains a math problem to be solved. Possible solutions are place on various signs leading to different paths. The correct solution and corresponding path will take you to another section of the castle, where a more difficult math question exists.

Find an explanation of the activity here!

9. Math Trek Scavenger Hunts

Students can create some pretty advanced content! Minecraft activities are wide walls in nature, with low floor and high ceiling possibilities. That means content can be simple for some students and advanced for others. This sandbox approach allows teacher to scaffold, modify, and differentiate without any additional prep work.

 

A math-oriented scavenger hunt in a Minecraft landscape

10: Proportional Relationships

Last, but certainly not least, why not challenge students to create “block” art in an 8-bit retro style. Perhaps they could paint, draw, or even cut and paste on poster board before trying to pixelate the masterpiece. Once this has been accomplished, challenge students to re-create their art to a different scale in Minecraft. What might the back end look like? Play, turn, twist, touch! 

 

Learning about proportional relationships through drawing in Minecraft

 

Brian Aspinall is the Manager of Digital Skills and Training at Actua Canada, where he leads the Codemakers program and the development of  coding content for students. Learn more about their work at actua.ca. Matthew Oldridge is an Ontario leader in using play to enhance mathematics instruction. Find out about his work at matthewoldridge.com.
To get started with Minecraft: Education Edition in your classroom, head to education.minecraft.net. Learn about more Microsoft tools and PD at microsoft.ca/education. Access free resources, courses, and a community of educators at education.microsoft.com.

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