Playing the game: meeting standards and differentiating instruction

Week Eight Essential Question:  How might video games enhance my students’ learning?

Revelation:  Minecraft is a geeky game.  Maybe you already knew this.  It became apparent to me when I encountered students who denied having ever played the game but demonstrated obvious proficiency in the MinecraftEdu tutorial.  It might be geeky, but it’s still a game, and being given a whole class period to play a computer game was a novelty for these high school students.

I had the privilege to be a guest in Nathan Adams’ high school classroom when he introduced the MinecraftEdu Tutorial World to two of his classes.  In the Tutorial World, the students learned how to navigate through Minecraft and how to dig and build by completing a series of “hands-on” challenges.  All of the students, from the genuine novices to the professed experts, were engaged in the tutorial challenges.  We could most easily observe that they had mastered the building skills; we could see the structures that they built.  The students also demonstrated perseverance in problem-solving as they used trial and error to figure out how to navigate through the Tutorial World, communication and collaboration skills as they asked for and gave help to each other, and spatial reasoning– a key skill in Minecraft.

Nathan, Colin, and I have been talking about ways to use Minecraft in the classroom to meet Nathan’s instructional goals.  Colin is working on creating a Minecraft map of Douglas Island that Nathan and his students can use to model and explore ecosystems.

My plan is to use Minecraft to create a proportional reasoning challenge for the students in Mr. Adams’ prealgebra class.  I have been learning how to play in Creative Mode in Minecraft to create “Proportion World.”  In Proportion World, students will first take a tour of a couple of sets of proportional models that I am building.  Each pair of models is accompanied by signs that describe the scale relationship between the models.  The next part of the challenge will be for each student to build a scale model of a given structure.  The final challenge will be for each student to build an original structure, build a scale model of that structure, and post signs to describe the scale relationship between the two.  After all students have completed the challenges, the whole class will tour the world together, and each student will give a live oral presentation to the class describing his or her models and problem-solving process.  I think I can create a scoring rubric that ties the Proportion World challenges to several Alaska Standards for Mathematical Practice and Content.

Minecraft can be used to meet all of the Alaska Standards for Mathematical Practice K-12 (2012):

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
  4. Model with mathematics
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically
  6. Attend to precision
  7. Look for and make use of structure
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

The challenges I am creating in Proportion World will meet the Alaska Standards for Mathematical Content (2012) for Ratios and Proportional Relationships:

  • Grade 6:  Understand ratio concepts and use ratio reasoning to solve problems.
  • Grade 7:  Analyze proportional relationships and use them to solve real-world and mathematical problems.

and Geometry:

  • Grade 6 and 7:  Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, surface area, and volume.
  • Grade 8:  Understand congruence and similarity using physical models, transparencies, or geometry software.

I must give credit to my sixteen year old son Sam as a key member of my PLN for this whole MOOC experience, and especially for simulation and video game expertise.  Since he was in kindergarten, he has enjoyed escaping into virtual worlds in his downtime, the more complex, the better.  He’s not the kind of person to let video games interfere with his responsibilities, so I’ve never had to monitor or limit his screen time.  To tell you the truth, I’ve never really paid that much attention to what he has been up to until I started taking this class.  Recently he has been helping me learn how to play some of these games (including Minecraft).  Now I marvel at his virtual world accomplishments.

The second game I explored for Week Eight is Zoo Tycoon for PC (Microsoft Corporation, 2003).  It’s not a new game; I think I gave it to Sam for his birthday some time when he was in elementary school.  He popped the disk in my laptop the other night and started creating a new zoo, and within a couple of hours, he had a profitable enterprise going.  Zoo Tycoon is a simulation game, sort of like The Sims, where you start with a bare piece of land and a budget, and you have a whole array of categories from which you can purchase structures, animals, and habitat features for your zoo.  Guests start visiting your zoo, generating income but also demanding services (food, drink, restrooms, etc.), so the game becomes a challenge of planning, estimating, budgeting, cost/benefit analysis, spatial reasoning, artistic creativity, and more.

I invited my thirteen year old daughter, who is not a big video game fan, to try the Zoo Tycoon tutorials with me.  In a short time, she had figured out the basics of the game.  I think she would have no trouble going on to develop a successful zoo.  As far as classroom application, I think the game would be good for mental math and all kinds of accounting skills, but I’m not sure exactly where it would fit in the middle school curriculum.

Tracie recommended the third game I explored this week when I asked in our Twitter chat if anyone knew of any good algebra games.  Lure of the Labyrinth is a free online game designed to develop prealgebra skills.  The website has an excellent section for educators explaining how the game fits with curriculum standards and how to implement the game successfully in your classroom.  It also features two modes of play, Play Game and Play Puzzles.  In the Play Game mode, the students work their way through a series of challenges to achieve the overall goal of rescuing pets from monsters.  In the Play Puzzles mode, students just solve the individual puzzle challenges, focusing on particular prealgebra skills without engaging in the pet rescue story plot.

As a digital immigrant, I am amazed at the way all of these games are designed for the player to learn how to play by playing.  I find myself constantly wondering where the help button is.  It takes real patience, perseverance, and clever reasoning to figure these games out.  I definitely have not been giving kids enough credit!  What’s great is that the games are engaging and motivating enough that kids will do what it takes to solve the puzzles.  When those solutions involve skills and concepts that match our curriculum goals and standards, I think we should embrace games in our classrooms.  And we should learn from the games themselves how we can make the rest of our instruction more engaging and motivating, too.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have proportional structures to build, snow leopards to feed, and pets to rescue from labyrinth monsters…

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About annekurland

#diffimooc participant UAS EDMA 658 Technology for Teaching and Learning Mathematics
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One Response to Playing the game: meeting standards and differentiating instruction

  1. dtj800 says:

    Wow! Rock on with Minecraft. I admire your hard work and creative application of the game. Tracey

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