THUNDER BAY – In the days of the one-room schoolhouse, a slate and a piece of chalk were about the only tools available to students looking to learn.
Today’s youngsters have the world at their fingertips, a click or two all that’s needed to bring just about anything imaginable to life.
They don’t know any other way of living.
Now that reality is being reflected in the classroom on a daily basis – take McKellar Park Public School as the perfect example.
Students in Kris Sandberg’s Grade 6 and Grade 7 classroom are using the popular video game Minecraft to enhance their reading ability and upgrade their math skills using virtual hands-on technology and working together with classmates to solve complex geometry problems.
It’s a fun way to learn, said Grade 6 student Sivanna Perry, a lot better than the textbook learning of generations past.
“I think it’s really cool and it’s really fun,” the 11-year-old said.
“We’re learning about area and building houses. We’re doing some art in it too, because we’re building houses and changing colours. We’re learning about perimeter and area with our house and Mr. Sandberg always has fun things for us to do.”
The veteran teacher said schools have to be able to adapt, not only to changing technologies, but also to the new ways students are learning because of it.
What worked in the past won’t necessarily work in the present.
Sandberg said he originally bought the game, the second-highest selling video game in the world, into his classroom as a way to help inspire their storytelling.
It’s brought the world a little closer to his students, he said.
“We’ve built ecosystems so they can experience what it’s like to be in the desert, to be in the Arctic, what it’s like to be in a forest/tundra. We’ve built circuits and how to use red stone to make a light turn on in there,” Sandberg said.
“There are so many applications. There’s chemistry now, they can build formulas and potions. There’s so many avenues they can explore with this game … We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg right now.”
It’s also helping students who might not necessarily to take to traditional teaching methods.
“Those students that have difficult times in schools, when I say we’re going to do some Minecraft, their eyes just light up and they said, ‘Oh, I can do that. I know Minecraft,’” Sandberg said.
The project is part of Lakehead Public Schools’ $6-million investment in tablets, laptops and bandwidth, said Gino Russo, the board’s the information technology and digital resources teacher. A portion of the plan includes a partnership with Microsoft, which has provided free access to Microsoft Office 365 to students and staff.
Free Minecraft access is part of the second phase of the deal.
Learning with the game allows students to build on the confidence they have in the game world, he said.
“They think, I’m really good at this, they think I already know something about this and maybe I can actually show my teacher,” Russo said.
“That confidence they have in the game world will translate to confidence they have in math.”