5th Grade Math Challenge Project with Minecraft

Over the last month or so I have been teaching in a 5th grade classroom.  We rolled out a new math program (Houghton Mifflin Expressions) so I am going into the classrooms and helping the teachers work on the program.  For this 5th grade class I gave them a pretest – which I think is extremely important.  Pretesting shows exactly what the students know and what I need to teach.  Using the information I gained from the pretest – I was able to cut the unit down from 21 days to 12 days.  I taught only the concepts the students needed and then gave the chapter test.  All but one or two of the students made an A on the test! The power of using the pretest is amazing!  It gives us the opportunity to teach what the students need and then be able to challenge the students with the rest of the time. Pretests also allow you to group students in flexible groups within the class.  If not all the students need the unit – give those students challenge work while you work with a smaller group of students that need more help.  This also helps with classroom management because your students that already know the material aren’t bored and distracting other students.

Dollar sign

Because the unit was over multiplication of whole numbers and decimals, I wanted to pick a challenge project that would allow the students to use their new skills.  The unit introduced exponents, so I wanted to be sure the project I picked had some exponents.  I chose to have the students do a project on the National Debt.  The students and I spent two days finding the National Debt and discussing what it is.  We also discussed the types of services the government provides and has to pay for with tax dollars.  We talked about taxation and issuing new money.  It was a great two days of discussion and the students asked SUCH great questions!

Then we moved on to the debt clock.  This is a clock that that shows the National Debt in real time.  It shows how the National Debt is increasing, literally by the second!  We also researched the US population so we could use LONG DIVISION to figure out the national debt per citizen.  The students were NOT happy about long division in the trillions place by millions!  I worked part of them with them and then challenged them to figure out the rest.  I wish I could say that the students rose to the challenge, but they didn’t.  I did have ONE students that worked it out all the way, by hand!  I let the rest use a calculator – clearly our long division skills need work (another reason these projects are great is because you do see what skills your students need work on)!  Additionally, we calculated the national debt owed by all of the citizens in our state (GA) and in our class.  We also used scientific notation to write the debt and discussed how scientific notation is used.  The last part of this phase of the project was to check the debt clock at three different points in time (we did this over several days) and use the change formula to calculate the change in the clock of the three different time periods.

The last part of the project was for the students to show a representation of the National Debt.  I found this website which showed a representation using dollar bills for the national debt (I scrolled quickly through the girl on the couch in the racy outfit!).  The kids were amazed at the amount of $100 bills it would take to represent the national debt (I used the website and not the youtube video because I didn’t like the women on the couch and knew I could have control of the content).

I knew I wanted to students to show this type of representation, but also understand it would take a LONG time that I didn’t have.  So, instead, we used Minecraft.  I loaded minecraft onto our iPad carts and let the students use the blocks to represent the money.  The students had to figure out how many blocks they would need based on the amount of money they made the block.  In general, most students had a block equal 1 billion, so they still had to place 17,000 blocks!  The students had to show the National Debt, Georgia’s portion of the debt and the Classes portion of the debt.  We presented our projects to the class and I graded the project with this rubric.

I think the representations are AWESOME!  I am so proud of the work the students did!  I have linked some of our projects below (Sorry about the quality of the video – you can’t screen record on the iPad).



3 thoughts on “5th Grade Math Challenge Project with Minecraft

  1. Can you tell me what software you used to show the iPad on the Smart board? Did you use an apple TV? This is fantastic!

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