According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the computing and information technologies fields is expected to grow 13 percent between 2016 and 2026 or more than 500,000 new jobs, outpacing all other industries.
Those are interesting statistics, but not necessarily of a lot of use to me. I’ve forgotten more about coding than I’ve actually learned or self-taught myself in the past, so I’m probably net negative at this point. Plus, there’s the saying about old dogs and new tricks.
That said, I have a 5 year old who loves to learn and is at the stage where she is just as interested in the “why” as the “what”. But how to get her started?
What is Minecraft?
Most people know what Minecraft is – it’s the sandbox video game that lets players do whatever they want, with a focus on resource gathering and building things. Since Microsoft’s acquisition in 2014, it’s remained on essentially all major gaming platforms, plus mobile. But did you also know there is a version geared for teachers and students called Minecraft Education Edition?
Having worked on a few projects for the Microsoft Education team during my time at 3Sharp, I have seen our consultants dig into the game and play Minecraft (for research purposes, of course), in order to gain expertise in the inner workings of the game. That expertise allows them to create an authentic and compelling story to demonstrate why Minecraft is so important: students can learn coding skills at an early age, and it allows them to be more competitive in tomorrow’s job market.
Microsoft's Minecraft Education Edition
Minecraft Education Edition now includes tools to help teach coding. Code Builder provides integration with various learn-to-code programs like Tynker and MakeCode, giving the coder-in-training the ability to control an on-screen avatar called “The Agent” through a series of commands. Want to have chickens rain on the Agent’s head? Use this:
Tynker and MakeCode lets students see why the Agent zigged instead of zagged, and they are very simple to use. Code Builder is provided with Minecraft Education Edition.
As a note:
If you don’t have Minecraft Education Edition, or don’t want to install it, Microsoft, in partnership with code.org, has a number of tutorials available online to teach coding. Visit code.org/Minecraft to check out their “Hour of Code” tutorials. These tutorials are broken up into several short modules, all of which should take about an hour total, and serve as a great beginner’s tutorial. Most importantly, they’re fun to use. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up from my five year old.
Minecraft Education and Teachers
Minecraft Education Edition has teachers covered as well. Education.minecraft.net has a number of lesson plans over a wide breadth of subjects that aren’t computer science related – like government, math, history, science, language and so on. Teachers can share lesson plans amongst the community and provide great content for their students, even if they aren’t as well versed in Minecraft as their students. Combined with other products focused on the Education market, like OneNote Class Notebook (we’ll have more content around this game-changer in the future), teachers have an invaluable tool with which to reach their students.
Minecraft Education and the Future
Most projections regarding employment and jobs in the future underscore the importance of computer science, and, more specifically, knowledge of coding as a key differentiator, if not a requirement, for employment. Getting kids started early is a big advantage in helping them learn the basics of skills that will serve them professionally in adulthood. What typing and word processing was for my generation, coding is for my daughter’s generation. Products like Minecraft Education Edition give a big boost to setting students up for future success.