Regina teacher using Minecraft to teach math

A Regina high school teacher is using the international smash hit video game Minecraft to teach his students math.

School division’s Connected Educators Program helps teachers and students get more connected to each other

Minecraft, a video game with lego-like building, is being used in a Regina classroom. (CBC News)

A Regina high school teacher is using the international smash hit video game Minecraft to teach his students math.

"I was inspired by my own kids — seeing them play Minecraft and building things," said Dean Vendramin, who teaches math and photography at O'Neill high school.

Minecraft involves building structures out of blocks.

"It's almost like playing with digital Lego," Vendramin said.

He said using technology helps engage students more than just using pencil and paper.

It's almost like playing with digital Lego.- Dean Vendramin, O'Neill high school math teacher

"I think we need to do more things that meet students in the way they learn and the way they figure things out rather than sometimes the traditional ways," he said.

Dean Vendramin teaches high school math using Minecraft. (CBC News)

Students in Vendramin's Math 20 class will be using Minecraft to build roller coasters. They will learn the math associated with building the structure, including how to calculate slopes. They will have to build a model, do some pre-production and show that they know what they're doing before they build the roller coaster in the digital space.

This class is part of the Regina Catholic School Division's Connected Educator program. The program, which is in its third year, connects students with technology rather than teaching them to use it just for the sake of it. It also connects teachers with each other.

Student reaction

O'Neill Grade 12 student Andrew Maerz is looking forward to learning about math through the video game Minecraft.

Grade 12 student Andrew Maerz has already played Minecraft for fun. He said he's looking forward to using it to learn math.

Maerz said he likes the Connected Educator program because it helps him learn more quickly in real time. Teachers have access to a real-time look at how students are grasping concepts. If Vendramin notices anything unusual, he can sit down with a student and go over the question or problem.

"I get more feedback. When I can show my work, I can, they can see where I'm going wrong or if I need any help," Maerz said.

Student-lead learning

Vendramin said students lead the direction of the class. Jennifer Stewart-Mitchell, the school division's Technology, Design & Training Co-ordinator, said what students want to learn often overlaps with traditional core lessons.

"It's about bringing in [students'] questions. Then bringing it closer to the students' hearts," she said.

O'Neill high school student uses tablet to calculate slope. (CBC News)

Parents are onboard with the program, according to Stewart-Mitchell. They are also connected with their students' apps and can follow along with their progress. It also allows parents to have more discussions with their kids about what they have learned.

It's about bringing in [students'] questions. Then bringing it closer to the students' hearts.- Jennifer Stewart-Mitchell, Technology Design & Training Coordinator

Teachers are also practising what they preach, incorporating different types of technology into their own learning, according to Stewart-Mitchell. During this past summer, the teachers had book chats using Skype to build on their professional development.

Jennifer Stewart-Mitchell, Technology Design & Training Co-ordinator, shows the first book Regina Catholic School Division Connected Educators teachers studied before implementing technology into the school curriculum. (CBC News)

Blair Pisio, chair of St. Kateri Tekakwiha Community Association Parent Council, said his experience with teachers using technology in classrooms depends largely on the individual teacher.

Pisio's son, who was in Grade 2 last year, had a teacher who was very tech savvy and incorporated it into her classes.

"They used Mathletics, which is essentially like a computer game. It was something that makes it fun, challenging and competitive. The kids can compete against each other. They were encouraged to try to use it at home," Pisio said.

He said it's good to show kids that computers and iPads can be used for more than just recreation and that learning can be fun.

We have to teach them for now and the future. There's a whole bunch of jobs that don't even exist yet that we have to get these guys prepared for.- Dean Vendramin, O'Neill high school math teacher

Vendramin said he is willing to try new methods and fail. He said he doesn't want to teach students the way he was taught.

"We have to teach them for now and the future. There's a whole bunch of jobs that don't even exist yet that we have to get these guys prepared for."