Youth Digital Uses Minecraft to Teach Programming


Minecraft, a popular online game for all ages, has been put to creative use as a teaching tool since its inception. Now, its educational applications are getting even more sophisticated: an online course called Server Design 1 uses the game to give kids an introduction to computer programming.

The course was designed by Youth Digital, a company that focuses on the technology education of kids 8-14, including coding, app development, and 3D modeling. With the Minecraft course, students learn to make mods for the game.

10 year old Ronan, who is enrolled in the course, summarized the appeal of the course:

I can turn a blank screen into a virtual playground.

Minecraft is a sandbox-style game reminiscent of Legos, in which players collect resources and assemble cube-shaped blocks into houses to protect themselves from monsters. These can range from simple structures to stunning works of art. There are two modes that players can make use of: survival mode, in which they’re running from enemies who are particularly dangerous at night, and creative mode, in which they have unlimited resources to build whatever they can dream up.

Justin Richards, Youth Digital CEO, said:

This matches science and storytelling into a singular project. It’s exploratory and just plain cool to actually get to modify the code and change the game that you love.

For $250 a year, students gain access to a Java server, curriculum, tools, and hosting with Youth Digital. They can design their own settings, characters, and scenarios, writes Brett Murphy of CNET.

Ronan said:

You get to add things that you would never ever, ever, ever be able to do without a programming interface. You can create skeletons wearing iron doors. How weird is that?

The course is designed to be engaging for students, and includes traditional media like videos, questions, quizzes, and assignments, but students can also earn badges for their achievements.

Kim Boyarski, the parent of a student using the program, said:

I like that Server Design 1 teaches my son Java, a real programming language, in a way that is fun and interactive. It allows him to create his own world and share it with his friends. He has been very excited to show off his work thus far and what he’s been able to create. I’ve been impressed with what he could accomplish after a few short lessons.

Minecraft’s other applications as a teaching tool include the Australian government’s yearly competition in which children design their “perfect national park” with Minecraft and MinecraftEdu, a version designed specifically for the classroom.

Richards said:

If you tell 9-year-olds that coding experience will help them get a job in the future, they might not be too interested. But if you ask them if they want to create a video game, they’ll answer yes every time.

Minecraft was acquired by Microsoft for $2.5 billion in 2014, reports Tyler Lee of Uber Gizmo.

Youth Digital also offers other online courses, in addition to summer camps and enterprise partnerships.