Rethinking Homework and Learning with Minecraft

by Aaron Maurer @coffeechugbooks Math. The subject that always seems to be the most difficult to mix with all the latest ideas and technologies. It is not impossible, but it tends to be the one subject that is most difficult to create projects and to use technology effectively in the classroom. Until now. Enter Minecraft Education Edition. I am always very cautious to not jump into the frenzy of shiny flashy objects. Too many times people try to fit a square peg in a round hole to enhance learning and it does not work. Minecraft Education is a tool that actually fits and works quite well. I am not the best at math(I know, wrong mathematical mindset). However, I realize that many adults and students feel this way. The challenge that I try to work through is how to fix this mindset. I think to back to why I feel this way about math: perhaps it was my poor math classes of sitting in rows, copying answers from the homework the night before, listening to a short lecture, and then working on the evens in the textbook. Repeat this process for 6 years. As I am getting older and wiser(questionable) with STEM, robotics, coding, and more I realize how important math skills are and will continue to be. I challenged myself to see if I could take a lesson that my son(6th grade) has been learning to see if I could spruce things up, mix up how it was taught without requiring more time. In the end I used a mixture of LEGO and Minecraft Education Edition to make it happen. This proved to me that math can be enhanced with manipulatives and technology. Minecraft Education is a portal to new way of learning math. It helps students connect the dots and build up their confidence along the way. Before I explain the actual concept we created I want to step back a bit. One thing I can relate to is how overwhelming something like Minecraft Education can be. I am not an expert in Minecraft by any means, but I have provided myself a challenge to step outside my comfort zone and learn. As a Global Mentor I have taken this title on to push my own learning and possibilities in the hopes that it inspires those who are on the fence to take the plunge. I started out on this journey as a father first. I watched my kids do remarkable work in regular Minecraft for many years. I witnessed them pour hours and hours into their creations, studying videos of others, experimenting new ideas, collaborating with kids from around the world, and doing all the things we hope to achieve in school. I decided to dive in as a student. I let my kids be the teachers and teach me the game, the building, the concepts that go into bringing ideas from our brains to the game. As I immersed myself into the worlds I knew that as a parent and a teacher there was something here that could transform learning for so many people. My next step was to then create a world for our sixth grade social studies curriculum. We(my son and I) set out to build a world that connected to ancient China. It was a blast and I learned so much along the way. Once I realized that I could indeed create, build, and learn while having fun I knew that I could help others do the same. Enter tackling math concepts with LEGO and Minecraft Education. The video shared explains the whole process of how we can take a very boring homework assignment and morph it into a much more engaging learning activity. The video goes into detail about taking a homework assignment on paper and moving it into a 3D interactive experience. It is easy to convince ourselves that it cannot be done. We convince ourselves that to use tools like Minecraft Education are too hard to learn or take too much time. This is wrong. Check the video and see how it can be done. It is possible. It is possible to engage students in content. It is possible to change how students perceive math and homework into an experience that is exciting to learn. Check out the video to see how these two tools can be implemented in a very quick, low entry fashion to help students grasp the concepts. The ideas shared can be done by any educator and student.

Aaron Maurer is an Instructional Coach for Bettendorf Middle School. He has been in education for over a decade teaching sixth grade social studies, literature and computer as well as spending many years teaching gifted education in grades 4-8 before taking on the new role of instructional coach. Aaron is a member of the Lego Education Advisory Panel, PITSCO Tag Committee, Makey Makey Ambassador, Minecraft Global Mentor, Skype Master Teachers, Microsoft Innovator Educator Expert, and was a finalist for the Iowa Teacher of the Year in 2014. He is an avid fan of STEM, Makerspaces, and Project Based Learning. He has launched a new engineering program called Young Engineers of Today and also coaches three robotics teams. In his free time he loves to spend time with his three kids, Aiden, Addyson, and Ava, their bulldog Frankie May, and acting like the fourth child to his wife Amanda. Last, he is an avid coffee consumer frequently spotted wearing bow ties searching for the that perfect cup of joe. You can find all of his work on his website www.coffeeforthebrain.com.