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Learning maths in a Minecraft world

Derwen College Functional Skills Co-Ordinator Leah Bamford is making numeracy relevant and fun with the use of ‘gamification’ in maths through personalised Minecraft worlds.

For many people, maths can be a struggle. While the complexities of trigonometry are not generally a worry to most of us, meaningful everyday maths is a vital skill for living an independent life.

Students at Derwen College, who have a wide range of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), use maths in their work experience and in their Independent Living Skills (ILS) sessions. For example;

  • Hospitality students count and weigh ingredients
  • Performing Arts students count beats and moves
  • Retail students count stock, check temperatures, use-by dates and operate the till
  • Horticulture students need to measure depths and spaces and record progress.

Students learn to use money for shopping and for timekeeping. There’s just no getting away from maths!

Photo shows Meg enjoying learning maths through Minecraft
Meg enjoys learning maths whilst being creative in her Minecraft world.

As Functional Skills Co-Ordinator, I teach maths and English. It’s no secret that maths has not always been my favourite subject. I understand the panic that descends when your brain is bombarded with numbers rather than words. I have made it my mission to make maths fun and meaningful for our students in their Functional Skills sessions.

How we have changed the way students learn maths

We have combined numerical skills with imagination and everyday mathematical problem solving. Students taking Functional Skills maths lessons are benefitting from the ‘gamification’ of maths and solving problems on a gaming platform that they already enjoy.

At College, our maths lessons have been given an engaging and relevant twist thanks to our personalised Minecraft world. Instead of using a pre-created world from the Minecraft Education library, I created ‘Derwen-craft’ – an online Minecraft world which even features a replica of our Functional Skills Centre, The Bradbury.

Photo shows Justin exploring maths in his Minecraft world.
Justin enjoys maths through his Minecraft world.

The ‘Derwen-craft’ world features maths problems that I created. As the students progressed, they asked if they could design some tasks and that has developed into devising maths problems to test each other. Performing Arts student, Megan and Retail student, Justin, are among the students who enjoy weekly maths sessions in the Minecraft world of ‘Derwen-craft’. Meg has built a virtual holiday home and rents out a speedboat. She is learning money skills, map scaling, and how to work out the cost of her boat trips using contextual maths problems. Justin has used his maths skills to design and create an impressive giant rollercoaster, which is currently 225 metres long. He is also designing a house and creating maths problems for other students to locate and work out.

What do our students think about learning maths this way?

Justin enjoys maths and is also a keen gamer. He says: “These sessions have really helped me. I have to calculate problems, but in an interesting way.”

Meg said: “I love maths now. I like building things. We are learning maths but can be creative too. The only rules are don’t kill villagers or destroy other people’s buildings. All’s fair in maths and Minecraft!”

Curriculum manager, Jennifer Fawcett-Jones, is a keen advocate for teaching creatively. She says: “Teachers at Derwen College are always looking for ways to make learning meaningful and engaging. It’s great to see students enjoying maths so much because of the creative and relevant way that it is delivered.”

She added, “using Minecraft, Leah has created a world where maths is disguised in colour, creativity and competition. This is a world where solving maths problems is not intimidating. It can be personalised and brought to life to have great cognitive value and help develop social skills. And let’s not forget, it’s great fun too!”

How else do our students learn?

Image shows Minecraft screen with example maths problem in Justin's Minecraft world.
An example of a typical maths problems in Minecraft that the students will need to solve.

At Derwen College, students aged 16–25, work and/or learn independence skills to support them in adulthood. Most students learn functional skills which are embedded into their vocational pathways. Where it is appropriate, some students receive dedicated additional timetabled functional skills sessions. These offer extra learning and sometimes accreditation, in maths and English.

Derwen College has a commercial ‘Marketplace,’ which is open to the public. Here, students work in the:

As they become more confident in their abilities, many students progress to external work placements in the community, at local and national businesses. Maths is, of course, important in everything they do.

Second photo showing sample maths problem in the Minecraft world
Another typical maths problem the students will have to solve in the Minecraft world.

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