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Thinking outside the blocks

Giving children a reason to use technology. I’ve been striving to make sure that the children have real connected purposes for learning in our classroom this year, as linking as many skills from as many subjects in one project is so very important.  I feel this is essential for learning in every classroom, whether in Primary or Secondary schools.

Children need to see the point of learning these skills – “what are people using these skills for right now in the world and what can I use them for?”

Thinking more about the outcome and then working backwards to find the skills needed, is something we need to do more in our schools. Don’t ruin the surprise for the children; allow the learning to be a surprise.

Don’t start with a learning objective, start with a question and see where it leads.  

I started the year with the children getting enthusiastic on Edmodo by asking them to suggest ways in which we could use Minecraft in school. One child, in particular, had a great idea to test various blocks on Minecraft using a diamond pickaxe – if you’re not sure about what a diamond pickaxe is, ask any of your children in school. They are the experts, and it’s important to remember this when technology comes into schools. Just ask them.

From the image, you can clearly see how organised his thinking is and even when he was pushed you could see the scientific methods he’d been taught coming to the forefront. All of this pre-planning had taken place before the school year had even started.

It was great watching him carry out his investigation in class as he’d planned it and was so very excited to do it.  It was pleasing to see how he’d thought it through and planned to use his findings to help him in the game. We predicted that the diamond pickaxe was going to be the quickest, but I asked him for evidence and he provided it by following a scientific investigation.

He used the techniques we’d learned in school to plan and carry out his investigation. A true test of the application of skills.  To add to this he even published his results using a bar graph – a good use of his maths skills. I’ve no idea why he chose 28 cobblestone blocks, but crucially he kept it fair.   Added to this, he was using a stopwatch on his iPad to time the experiment to two decimal places, “just in case it’s really close.” He is planning other experiments.

Using Minecraft allowed him to carry out a real-life investigation using the skills he’d learned to solve a problem that he was interested in. He wanted to find out once and for all which was the best pickaxe.  We now have the scientific proof that a diamond pickaxe is better at mining cobblestone in Minecraft.
Analysing the results started to raise more investigation questions, just like any good investigation should. He was curious to find out if other mining tools had a similar pattern or if these results would display similar results.

Area and Perimeter: Using Minecraft
We started to investigate Area and Perimeter in mathematics, built on the idea that architects need to use this information to build our houses and schools.  The children wanted to know how buildings were constructed and how their homes had been designed. What did those designs look like?

Building on from this question, we started to think about why kitchens are one size, but bedrooms and gardens are another size.  Using Minecraft and the idea that a bed takes two blocks, we could start planning room sizes in creative mode.

We used the blocks to calculate the area of the rooms we built by counting the blocks, a simple but effective way to calculate the area of a shape.  We then quickly made the leap into making our calculations more efficient by thinking about how arrays worked and how we could multiply the length by the width to find the area.

We moved on to splitting irregular shapes into two or three shapes and used different coloured blocks to calculate. During these sessions, the children discovered the formula for calculating the area and it spread around the classroom.

The children then took this ‘playing’ into their maths books and demonstrated a clear understanding of how to find the area of regular and irregular shapes following a formula they’d discovered.

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The author

Chris has been teaching in primary schools for nearly 15 years now and has used technology in his classrooms since the very beginning. He believes in a cross-curricular and social approach to learning. Children need to talk, to play, to fail and improve. Technology is now enabling children to do this outside the classroom and he firmly believes that we are on the edge of something amazing in education – a new chapter in what schools will look like and how children will become outstanding learners. He firmly believes that flipping your classroom is a way to truly personalize the learning experience for the children in your classroom.

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