Sherri Rickman (ITRT), JT Thompson (Microsoft Engineer), and I had a chance to design and implement a lesson with 5th graders in Mrs. Clifford’s class at Fort Lewis today.  We had two objectives when planning the lesson: Introduce Code Connection (with Minecraft Edu) and align the activity with a Math unit on area and volume.  Mrs. Clifford had a study sheet that helped guide us as we made the lesson:


Here’s what we came up with:

Area and Volume with Code Connect

Tip: Have students create their own worlds.  Choose Blocks of Grass in Creative Mode.  Explain that it is a “sandbox” and will be very messy by the end.

The lesson flow went like this:

  1. Students build shapes in Minecraft Edu with a certain area (width x length).
  2. Students learn to use Code Connection (with Make Code) to create a program that  makes shapes with a certain area.  Examine the variables needed to make that code work.
  3. Students build shapes in Minecraft Edu with a certain volume.  Discuss how this adds another dimension to measure (width x height x length).
  4. Students use Code Connection (with Make Code) to create another program that would make shapes with a certain volume.  Discuss the need to add a third variable.
  5. Students took pictures of 5 shapes with different areas and 5 shapes with different volumes.  They used the camera and the portfolio feature to caption each picture and then exported it for the teacher to grade.

    Program for Area
Program for Volume

Things we LOVED about this lesson:

We used this lesson to INTRODUCE volume.  Students had covered area in class but not volume.  Many times we find that teachers want to save a “project” like Minecraft for the end of the unit, but this was a perfect example of how sometimes it works best to use it to TEACH the unit.  This clearly wasn’t an “extra activity” but part of the instruction.

The teacher said it was the best way she’d ever seen to introduce volume.  Students could clearly see the cubes that made up their shapes and check their work.  They could also break blocks and count them as needed. In the past she had tried to do that with unifix cubes, but they were messy and hard to keep together.  It worked much better in Minecraft Edu. Plus many kids already have an experiential understanding of Minecraft which can help when teaching math concepts with it.

Code Connection was introduced as part of a content lesson, and the idea of variables seamlessly worked its way into the lesson.  Not only did it make it easier for students to make shapes, it helped them understand the difference between measuring two dimensions (length and width) for area and three dimensions (length, height, and width) for volume.

The understanding of 2 dimensions for area and 3 dimensions for volume lead to a discussion of why things are labeled as units squared versus units cubed.

Students were completely engaged for the entire 2 hour lesson.  Normally this lesson would be broken up, but the teacher was able to make time to do it all in one day.  There are very few math lessons that would hold 5th graders’ attention for 2 hours the day before Spring Break.  This activity did.

Make Code allows students to see the Javascript behind the block coding they were using.  It was color-coded and fairly easy for the students to follow once they understood what their program did.

We loved using the camera and portfolio feature in Minecraft Edu so that the teacher could look back on the lesson after it was done and see exactly what her students understood, and what needs to be reiterated.

Things to do before you try to do this lesson:

These students had already worked in Minecraft Edu for two larger projects (creating animal and plant cells and the geological features of oceans). They all had experience using Minecraft Edu in an educational setting.

This group of students all had done coding before, and more than just an hour or two.  In the past, the principal required that all students participate in coding during Hour of Code, and encouraged it during other times as well.  The school had offered a Coding Camp which many of the students attended.

This lesson would still work with students who had less understanding of coding, but it did make it a lot easier knowing they already understood how to snap blocks together and change variables in the code.

Follow Up:

By the end of the lesson, there were 3 or 4 students who will need a little more help with the concept.  But considering we were introducing it to about 35 kids, that’s pretty good!  The teacher plans to have students work in pairs next time — one student builds the shape and one students comes back and labels it.  Sometimes students can teach another in different ways than the teacher, and so that’s what she hopes.  She feels comfortable doing this without us — and that’s awesome too!