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Math by Minecraft: Regina teacher innovating learning via video games

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WATCH: A teacher at Regina's O'Neill High School has come up with a clever way to get students engaged in learning math. – Aug 30, 2019

This might be the one time when parents shouldn’t yell at their kids for playing video games when they should be doing homework.

For the students of Dean Vendramin at Regina’s O’Neill High School, the two are one and the same. In an effort to better engage his students in active learning, Vendramin has started using the video game Minecraft to teach a few principles of mathematics, including surface area, volume and slope.

“You get a lot of the response: ‘Really? We’re using Minecraft?'” said Vendriman. “I say, ‘Yeah we’re using Minecraft!'”

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The Calgary Tower in Minecraft. GSHDFTW

The mechanics of Minecraft gameplay are simple. Block by block, users can create anything they imagine in a near-limitless digital world — from famous landmarks to one-of-a-kind roller coasters.

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But Vendramin says important mathematical theory exists behind that simple construction method. His “Workplace 20” math class is geared towards teaching real-world math skills like those often used in the trades. He says playing Minecraft is a perfect way to engage students in applying theory.

“If the students are building something like a roller coaster they have to figure out if they have a positive or negative slope, a horizontal or a vertical slope,” he said, “so they have to come up with a plan first. There’s lots of critical thinking going on.”

Some of the projects dreamed up in Mr. Vendramin’s class are taken a step further into reality with the help of the school’s 3D printer. File / Global News

After a student plots out and creates something, Vendramin joins them in their digital world to see how well their math was applied. He says while the creations may be digital, the results are a little more physical.

“It’s really motivated a lot of students that might have been disengaged before. We still do notes and quizzes, but once they get that theory they get to go build with it, see it come to life and have a lot of fun.

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Vendramin has been applauded abroad for his innovative efforts.

He’s a past winner of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence and has been named a “Minecraft Mentor” by the game’s owner Microsoft.

Vendramin’s students in Regina are giving his teaching methods a pretty good report card too.

“It was really fun. You could just be creative in your own way,” said an O’Neill High student who Global News caught on the way to football practice. “It also helps you out with your learning. I got pretty decent grades.”

Vendramin, though, say—s Minecraft math is just scratching the surface of what can be done to innovate teaching.

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“We’re not just confined to books anymore. We have access to knowledge from all over the world,” he said. “And our world is changing and I think education needs to change with it.”

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