December 12, 2016
Since its release in 2011, Minecraft has captured the hearts and minds of today’s youth. With the recent release of MinecraftEDU school version, this popular game is rapidly becoming the most important educational software of our generation and is now used to teach logic, problem solving, and geometry.
While many educators use Minecraft to teach project-based learning and other liberal arts topics, many don’t realize that Minecraft is one the best ways to teach students computer programming. Here are four reasons Minecraft is great for teaching kids coding.
Getting kids to try computer programming is surprisingly easy. Keeping them engaged, however, is a very different story. While kids will quickly adapt to the new stimuli, they rarely take the steps towards became masters of this new, albeit complicated skill.
But when it comes to this popular game, kids are more interested that you can imagine. Be introducing mods, you can engage kids by letting them change their own game. “Mods” (short for modifications) are changes to the Minecraft game that give its characters, objects, and landscapes new and surprising characteristics. In order to “mod” the game, students must learn to to code in order to make meaningful changes. When kids are able to imagine and code their own custom mods, they become focused and engaged.
Visual Block Coding Options
Hunting for keys on a keyboard can be frustrating for young learners. As a solution, some brilliant educators developed drag-and-drop visual block tools that allow kids to perform event-driven programming with with Lego-like function blocks. Alice and Scratch popularized this methodology, and in 2016 Microsoft and Code.org unveiled a Minecraft drag and drop coding platform.
Visual blocks represent important computer programming functions such as If Then statements, Loops, and more, and can help younger students learn the foundations of computer science in a visual way. Visual block coding is in some respects similar to training wheels on a bicycle. It is designed to be outgrown. For early learners, however, it allows students to focus more on concepts rather than syntax, and provides another great way to use Minecraft as a coding resource.
Modding Teaches Real Java
When kids are ready to take their skills to the next level, Minecraft Modding with Java can introduce them to real programming. One of the coolest byproducts of Minecraft’s open architecture is that it allows users to access Minecraft’s Java source code to literally create anything that they can imagine. While modding with Java, kids learn to create their own custom pickaxes, their own enemies, or their own dimensions. They can use Java coding to give their creations special properties and then try out their creation in the game that they love to play.
The “Ah Ha” moment in which a child plays with her mod in the game is a marvel to see, and once kids experience it, they want to learn more. Modding provides children with the additional motivation and persistence required to overcome common occurrences in programming – bugs, exceptions, and other technical glitches.
Courses Provide Numerous Options
Minecraft-based educational offerings keep expanding at breakneck speed, and there are many interesting resources that kids can use to learn coding. Microsoft's investment in MinecraftEDU seems promising and they're expected to build out more Minecraft visual block coding challenges.
Other providers such as CodaKid, CodeKingdoms, and LearntoMod are also producing interesting high-quality Minecraft coding courses that can help kids gain an understanding of important coding concepts and walk away with valuable 21st century skills.
David Dodge is the founder and CEO of CodaKid Online Kids Coding Academy. He is a former game designer for the Sony Playstation and PC, and the software architect of Tutorware.
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