11. 04. 2022
Stanley Strum, a nine-year-old, spends a lot time in Minecraft, an immersive game that allows you to create your own mini-universe. There are many tools in the game. Stanley is one of many who has taken the game to the next level by adding new features to the game. He's also learning to code.
This is done using a modification to Minecraft called LearnToMod. Modifications such as this, known as "mods", are a major part of the game's success. This mod helps kids create their own mods. Strum, for example, built a teleporter to whisk him to any location in the game. Another lesson is to teach kids how to code a bow that shoots arrows and create "portals" between different locations within the game. This allows them to reach areas that would otherwise be difficult to access. It's similar to being able create your own cheat codes.
Strum is one 150 students who are currently tinkering in LearnToMod. This educational add-on teaches the basics of programming and creates tricks and tools you can use within Minecraft. The mod will be made available to the public in October. Its creators hope that it will make Minecraft a gateway drug to computer programming.
Stephen Foster, cofounder of ThoughtSTEM and the company that built the LearnToMod module, says that kids are already spending a lot of time on Minecraft. "So we thought this would a great way to help them learn skills."
"Kids spend a lot of time on Minecraft already. This would be a great way to teach them skills. ThoughtSTEM began offering classes in person in San Diego, Granite Bay and Oakhurst, CA. The classes were based on CodeSpells, which Foster created as a PhD student at University California. The idea was to get CodeSpells students interested in learning the programming skills that would allow them to progress within the game. Foster and his co-founders Sarah Esper, Lindsey Handley, soon realized that many of their students were already passionate Minecraft players and that it would be more practical to create a class that harnesses that passion. They created a class for children aged 8-15 that teaches them how to modify Minecraft and earn college credit at the University of California, San Diego.
The ThoughtSTEM team was inspired by the success of students such as Strum and is now sharing the tools they created for their classes with the rest of the world via LearnToMod. The company will also offer an online course for a fee that will allow students to earn college credit at UC San Diego.
ThoughtSTEM is not the only company to use Minecraft for educational purposes. TeacherGaming, for example, sells MinecraftEDU, a customized version of the game that allows educators to create virtual classrooms that can teach everything from microbiology to history. Google even collaborated with MinecraftEDU to develop an addon that teaches the principles of quantum computing.
LearnToMod is different than most Minecraft-based educational programs. ThoughtSTEM created its own interface outside of Minecraft to use the game instead of making it a virtual classroom. The web application teaches kids coding skills that give them special advantages in the game.
Minecraft is very open-ended. You can choose to spend your time exploring the game world, building elaborate castles or fighting monsters. Mods allow you to quickly create things that would otherwise take too long in the game. For example, mountains or large dungeons or custom types of blocks. You can also create rules that allow you to build your own Minecraft games, such as Tetris or capture the flag.
After the children have created their code in LearnToMod the application connects with their Minecraft account to make mods available to them. The ThoughSTEM team hopes to inspire students to code Minecraft mods by teaching them how to do it themselves.
Joel Levin, founder of TeacherGaming, is fondly in love with the idea. He says that kids are passionate about Minecraft and quickly learn that they can extend their Minecraft experience by learning basic programming. "And that's what we really want, isn't it?" To see our children realize that they can improve their lives by learning code.
>That's what we really want, isn't it? To make sure that our children understand that code can help them improve their lives in a way that is relevant to them.
Levin claims that TeacherGaming is currently working on its own mod-building education program, ComputerCraftEdu. This will eventually be available online and in person. There are a few classes that teach students how to create mods such as MakersFactory's Santa Cruz class and YouthDigital's online course. However, most of these classes require students to code in Java programming language. Java can be complicated.
However, students will not become Mark Zuckerberg overnight by building Minecraft mods they learn. Although the skills they learn will transfer to other types, such as mobile app development and programming, it will take some additional work. It's the first step to realizing that programming is possible.