A few weeks ago, Denise Colby wrote about her summer school experience with Minecraft. As she mentioned, I had the great opportunity to incorporate Minecraft much more thoroughly in my Grade 3 STEM (science-technology-engineering-math, for those not immersed in edu-babble) program for July 2014. A lot of credit should go to my summer school principal, Liz Holder, who contacted me way back in May 2014 to encourage me to write a proposal for a specialized summer school program. I wrote the plan and my class was given extra funds to make it possible. I tried very hard to ensure that my plans weren’t overly prescriptive and as open-ended as possible, but I did have to indicate what would probably be occurring and how it connected to the curriculum and the general goals of the summer school. Here is the plan below.

Lucy Maud Montgomery P.S. Elementary Summer School Program 2014

Cube Power: Minds on Minecraft

Grade 3: Numeracy, Science and Technology

Course Description: Minecraft is a popular “sandbox” video game – and a great way to learn about math, science, and technology. Students will lead the learning by determining what buildings and devices they’d like to create in the virtual world – and attempt to recreate some in the physical world as well.


Instructional Plan

Week 1

  • Minecraft 101 – Establishing group norms, math centres, discussing online conduct & features of Minecraft, selecting user name/skin & justifying choice
  • Technology challenge #1 – Make a home in Minecraft
  • Methods = Tribes TLC © inclusion-building activities, individual learning inquiry logs, math journals, science notebook, scheduled rotation for technology use

Week 2

  • Why Cubes? – Exploring the unique landscape of Minecraft, the ways around it (e.g. can you build a sphere in a Minecraft environment?)
  • Technology challenge #2 – Choose a Minecraft build challenge from several options
  • Methods = Tribes TLC © influence-building activities, accountable talk strategies such as brainstorming, think-pair-share, individual learning inquiry logs, math journals and experimenting

Week 3

  • Redstone: Powering our Projects – Red-stone and real-world equivalents
  • Technology challenge #3 –Create a device that uses red-stone in Minecraft
  • Methods = Tribes TLC © influence-building activities, accountable talk strategies such as brainstorming, think-pair-share, individual learning inquiry logs, math journals and experimenting, research using videos and other sources

Week 4

  • Minecraft in the Real World – Recreating some of our Minecraft artefacts in real-life or imagining cross-overs (e.g. what would it be like to be in Minecraft?)
  • Methods = Tribes TLC © community-building activities, possible field trip to EDGE Lab at Ryerson University, student-led reflection (for report cards)

Assessment Methods:

  • Anecdotal notes for guided learning skills observations
  • Math journals (including but not limited to problems of the day, reflections, technology challenge thoughts)
  • Science notebook with design plans
  • Presentations of engineering challenges

Curriculum Expectations

Number Sense and Numeration Measurement Geometry and Spatial Sense
OE#3: solve problems involving the addition and subtraction of single- and multi-digit whole numbers, using a variety of strategies, and demonstrate an understanding of multiplication and division OE#1: estimate, measure, and record length, perimeter, area, mass, capacity, time, and temperature, using standard units; OE#2: describe relationships between two-dimensional shapes, and between two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional figures
Understanding Structures and Mechanisms – Strong and Stable Structures
OE#2:  investigate strong and stable structures to determine how their design and materials enable them to perform their load-bearing function


Technology Operations & Concepts Research & Information Fluency Critical Thinking & Problem Solving Creativity & Innovation
Create content that demonstrates planning, writing, and editing for a particular purpose Search, read, and note take information from sources Adhere to a project plan to develop a solution or complete a project Participate and collaborate in an online environment

Well, my fifteen Grade 3 students re-wrote those plans, and it was a big improvement.

My site coach, Mythili Thedchanamoorthy, also played a part in the great revision. As I was setting up my classroom before the first day, she brought me oodles and oodles of square boxes for me to do whatever I wanted. I included this in our IRL (in-real-life) Build Zone with no direction or instruction for the children, and the students created the most interesting, complex artifacts. Many items were Minecraft-related. Others were pure exploration.

LMM14Day11 010LMM14Day5 008LMM14 Day3 015

LMM14 Day1 Etc 047LMM14Day4 032LMM14Day6 017

The students in my summer school came from a variety of neighbourhood schools. Over half had never played Minecraft before. A few had tinkered with the pocket/iPad edition or tried it out on XBox. My ambitious plans to have everyone constructing redstone circuits would have to be abandoned – but was it really? We reduced the number of “required” Minecraft builds to just two: a house/dwelling, done independently, and a bridge over Lava River, done with a group. However, when the individuals and groups presented their work to the class (and to Ms. Colby’s class), I was astounded to see that they differentiated the task based on their abilities – some  incorporated active rail tracks with redstone powered levers, while others added ladders. Every house was unique – just like the students.

LMM14Day11 019 LMM14Day11 022 LMM14Day10-Mandarin 020 LMM14Day8 047LMM14Day10-Mandarin 016 LMM14Day10-Mandarin 025

Some of our favourite whole-class activities were based on student suggestions and weren’t part of the original master plan. For example, when the students found out that we’d be visiting another school and another class as our field trip, one of the class members suggested that we bake a cake to bring to them. We did – and it was a fantastic chance to practice our math and science (and engineering – we created Minecraft cake decorations out of link cubes).

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in summer school, and I’m glad that I wasn’t so devoted to my initial plans that I wasn’t willing to deviate. It was those tangents and redirections that made it special and educational.