It’s a problem most teachers have probably tried solving: How do we get kids excited about mathematics?
One teacher at Regina’s O’Neill High School has managed to find the solution, via a popular video game — Minecraft.
“That student that’s sometimes not motivated and is kind of sitting there (looking like), ‘This is going to suck’ kind of a thing, you should see their eyes light up,” Dean Vendramin said.
He has been using Minecraft to teach math to his Grade 11 students for the past four years.
“They’re like, ‘Really? You’re going to let us try Minecraft?’ ‘Yeah.’ It has definitely been amazing,” he said.
He first got the idea to use it as a teaching tool from his two sons about seven years ago.
Since then, it has taken off in his classes.
Vendramin said students are actually eager to dive into projects, share feedback on others’ work and see what works and what doesn’t for a particular design or project.
“They’re even coming beyond class to get into this (work). And some of them are (asking me), ‘Can I do this on my Xbox at home?’ ” he said.
He uses the education version of the 3-D, block-building game to teach mathematical concepts like slope, grade and trusses.
Examples of assignments his students have completed include: Building roller-coasters, building water parks, and building famous world landmarks, like the Great Wall of China.
After students map out a rough, schematic plan of a design on paper, they take it to their laptops and start building.
“I just get out of the way, and let them go to town; let them build, and have fun and that type of thing,” he said.
When they’re done with an assignment, they print screenshots of what they’ve finished, and Vendramin grades them.
He said he’s also lucky to have access to a 3-D printer, which gives students the chance to fabricate hard, plastic versions of their designs. The Great Wall of China sits among other mini, plastic, printed world landmarks, like a Mayan temple, an Aztec temple and a teepee.
The video game has also led one of his former students to competitive success outside the classroom.
“There was a contest that Microsoft Canada put on, and it was about Canada 150,” he said. “A student made a prairie scene with a grain elevator … and a combine inside a wheat field.”
The student won the contest, earning a set of new laptops for Vendramin’s classroom. Students still use the laptops now.
For Vendramin, using the video game is about more than just getting his students hooked so they participate and complete assignments. He said using the technology often brings out students’ creative and collaborative sides. They develop their own motivations for getting right into their assignments, discovering new ideas on their own.
That’s rewarding enough for him, he said.
“That’s why I got into teaching, was to see those light-bulb moments,” he said.
The video game has also toppled some traditional assumptions about video games and building only being of interest to boys.
“The best work I’ve had, some of the most creative things I’ve had, have been from the girls in my class,” he said.
Vendramin will welcome a new set of students to his classroom for the 2019-20 school year, starting on Tuesday.