Can Minecraft teach kids how to code?

In August, I attended O’Reilly’s FOO Camp, a conference like no other, located on our shared campus in Northern California.

One of the things that makes FOO so interesting is that there’s no explicit theme, agenda, or schedule – people are simply provided with the infrastructure and impetus to meet other interesting people and talk. One outcome is that given the opportunity to speak freely, people very rarely talk about their jobs or their work (although that may come into it); what they are really excited to talk about is their passion. 

I got talking with one interesting looking attendee after a session where the computer game Minecraft came up in conversation. The session took place just before a break, he was saying some interesting things, and I wanted to follow up.

At the time my 7 year-old son had just begun obsessing over Minecraft (see the daily sales stats to see that he’s far from alone). I didn’t know much about it as a parent other than it took all of his attention; that I had heard good things about it; and that if it’s a computer game, then it must be bad for him – worse than, say, homework and vegetables.

In the space of about 45 seconds this guy basically set me straight – that Minecraft was awesome; that it could teach my son incredible things (including some of the foundations for coding); and leaving me with the impression that if I in any way restricted my son’s access to the game I would be derelict as a parent. (See also the NYT on the same subject.)

Last month I signed up for the Hour of Code with my son, and we both had a blast. Remembering my conversation in the summer, and seeing my son’s ongoing fascination with Minecraft, I wanted to point you to some great new books about Minecraft in Flow.

This holiday, we all read The Minecraft Guide for Parents

“One of the ways teachers frequently use Minecraft is in demonstrating geometry concepts. For instance, the blocks can be placed to create various forms, and they can be filled with water to demonstrate volume. But Minecraft can also be used to teach basic numeracy skills. Crafting items can help with simple problem-solving and equations, and at the very least, kids will quickly pick up on their times tables for the number eight, because objects are typically stacked in groups of eight” The Minecraft Guide for Parents

and we did a little haggling over the parent / child contract.

I also spent some time with The Ultimate Player’s Guide to Minecraft, short-circuiting some of the learning time. We haven’t yet got onto Building Minecraft Server Modifications or even creating our own Raspberry Pi Minecraft Server, but I have learned more about Redstone Circuits and Mods.

I’m increasingly excited by how I can help direct my son’s enthusiasm for Minecraft into some related areas. We’ve already begun some basic electronics with a Bleep Labs Drum Machine that was a gift this Christmas, and we have some tips for next steps from the hour of code from a co-worker. We’re thinking about how some of the content in Safari Flow can be helpful for parents as well as professionals, and welcome any ideas, requests or experiences in the comments.

The Minecraft Guide For Parents

Building Minecraft Server Modifications

The Ultimate Player’s Guide to Minecraft

8 thoughts on “Can Minecraft teach kids how to code?

  1. i was just having this conversation the other day w/ a co-worker. as a computer scientist, i was suggesting that minecraft was certainly a step in the direction and a tool to help one understand programming and computer interaction. the familiarity w/ the computer and filesystem and the problem solving required to install mods, packs, spin up a server, etc are all things i have no clue about in the context of minecraft but things i have helped my son get working.

    he now has his own cloud server w/ minecraft running and he and his buddies are futzing with that.

  2. Make sure you check out http://scriptcraftjs.org/

    I set this up for my 8 year old and he loves it. It’s easy to set up and they can start out doing very simple things like creating buildings, terrain etc… all using a simple JavaScript API.

    What’s been really cool (and unexpected) is how much more he is learning about computers as it introduces managing source code files, client/server, server config files, and the command line. To him it’s all just Minecraft.

  3. Pingback: Can Minecraft teach kids how to code? | Betteridge’s Law

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