BUILDING BLOCKS

Minecraft-themed lessons are here to help your kids learn to code

Learning to code need never be boring, as the clever creativity of code.org’s annual Hour Of Code educational push shows. But this year there’s a new slant to the initiative that could make coding more fun for kids to learn than ever: Minecraft-themed lessons.

Minecraft is many things. It’s baffling to non-gamers, addictive to kids of all ages plus many a full-sized human, and almost mind-bogglingly popular. (Minecraft.net official statistics report that nearly 21.5 million people have bought the PC or Mac version of the game.)

But in announcing its partnership with code.org to add Minecraft-themed content to the Hour Of Code event, Minecraft owner Microsoft notes the game has also demonstrated big educational possibilities. The press release remarks that “more than 7,000 teachers around the world” are already incorporating Minecraft into lessons to teach things like “strategy, collaboration, and survival.”

So it seems a logical extension to actually create coding lessons that use the adorably simple-looking—but actually ingeniously complex—game mechanics of Minecraft itself.

The lessons teach the basics of computer science, asking students to move Minecraft characters Alex or Steve through a blocky, Minecraft-like world. To keep the lessons accessible to beginners, the lessons use a system called Blockly, instead of potentially scary-looking text-based instructions.

Programming in Blockly is as simple as dragging and dropping instructional icons like “turn left” or “move forward” into order on the screen. While dodging obstacles and moving characters through the world, the idea is that students learn basic ideas like program loops and “If” statements almost without noticing, since they’ll feel like natural elements of a game rather than abstract scientific principles.

This is no half-hearted Minecraft clone either; no boring lesson merely dressed up to look like Minecraft. It’s actually been built with the help of the game’s own coding team, so it’s the genuine pixellated article, complete with helpful videos from the coders themselves.

Code.org is really pulling the stops out this year, having previously announced a partnership with Disney to include Star Wars-themed coding lessons. Since the event is happening Dec. 7 to Dec. 13, this is perfectly timed to ride the wave of Star Wars hype that will surround the global release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Dec. 18.

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