PETOSKEY — It was a zoo in Nikky Willison’s third-grade classroom on Wednesday morning.
In fact, there were about a dozen zoos in the process of construction as students worked in pairs to create the ideal habitats for a wide array of animals through the popular video game Minecraft.
Willison said they first began using Minecraft in the classroom at Central Elementary School at the start of the school year through a free trial offer. They purchased the program after the free trial ended with grant funds designated for STEAM resources.
In the latest project, students have been studying how to calculate area and perimeter. The math lesson merged with a science lesson on animals and habitats and students will use all of their research to build their own zoos in the game.
“We’ve been working on area and perimeter and so this ties in with their Common Core standards,” Willison said. “They’re working with a partner, so learning how to collaborate, and then they’re going to design their own zoo.”
Depending on which animals they chose to populate their zoos, the students have to calculate how large to build the habitats based on the animal’s needs. Before they can begin building in the game, Willison said the students map out the zoo by making a blueprint on graph paper.
“They’ve designed the blueprint of their zoo on there and when they have that done, then they’re building it in Minecraft,” she said. “They’re building it together.”
Because of the collaborative nature of the project, Willison said students are learning to recognize that there are real people behind the avatars in the game.
“A lot of times, if they’re playing games, they don’t actually see the person and now their friend is right with them,” she said. “So we’ve had kids where they knocked over a building and their friend has gotten upset and they’ve actually seen them get upset. That’s been a good lesson for the kids to learn.”
One of the students, Alex Cannon, said he has animals such as red pandas, gorillas and iguanas in his zoo and that his favorite part of the project is “probably building the cages with the animals.”
Emma Mitas added that “it’s really fun” using Minecraft in the classroom.
“You have to do math to get their habitats done,” she said.
Because the program is fairly new to the classroom, Willison said she is still learning of new ways to incorporate the game into her lessons.
“You can also combine social studies with it. You can build longhouses and simulate trading posts in it,” she said. “(The students) love Minecraft. They write in their journals, they give me ideas of ways we can use it in school, which is great. They’re motivated to learn.”
In fact, Willison said the students are learning above grade level skills as they build their zoos.
“It’s fun to see them stretch their brains and learn a little bit more,” she said. “I’m so happy we got an opportunity to try it because it’s really great for these guys. They really love it. I just love how engaged they are.”