Children across the world are heading back to school, and their parents breathe a sigh of relief. Instead of playing video games, children can now expand their minds in institutions designed for learning. But, what if a popular video game could teach children how valuable programming is as a real-world skill?
While Minecraft from developers Mojang isn't a new game by any means, new ways to use the open-world, sandbox title have emerged. A program called LearnToMod is teaching kids, including nine-year-old Stanley Strum, how to code by modifying their Minecraft games for fun new functions.
This is called "modding" in the gaming community, and thanks to LearnToMod, kids can create their own alterations to boost their gaming experience. For example, you can make a bow summon lightning bolts from the sky upon command, or you can create warp points at will for easy, fast transportation. As you can probably guess, kids love this new idea, and according to WIRED magazine, it's like "being able to create your own cheat codes."
The mod will become available to the general public sometime in October 2014, but at this time of writing, it is only available to the 150 kids who are participating in the program.
LearnToMod was created by ThoughtSTEM, a group of computer-science education experts who have made it their goal to teach kids real-world skills and expand the future of the technology industry. Stephen Foster, the co-founder of ThoughtSTEM, says that "kids are already spending ridiculous amounts of hours on Minecraft. So we thought this would be a good way to help them learn skills."
Kids are enjoying the opportunity to learn new ways to make their gaming experience more fun, and may be able to use these skills as building blocks for technology careers when they grow up. In fact, this class not only aims at teaching kids how to code, but even allows participants to earn college credit from the University of California in San Diego.
The LearnToMod interface isn't located in Minecraft itself, but is a separate interface. Kids build the code in this interface, and can then upload the file to their Minecraft account. This makes it available in the game, and the possibilities, quite honestly, are limitless. Players can literally build anything they desire in Minecraft, and the game appeals to all personality types. Creative children can build whatever their hearts desire, including huge dungeons and complex corridors built into steep mountain ranges or deep mine shafts. More adventurous kids can explore the randomly-generating variables in the world, such as underground temples and deep-sea dungeons, in search of valuable gemstones or creepy monsters. By learning how to code, kids can further enhance the experience they gain from Minecraft.
Of course, Minecraft can't get your kids a job right out of school, but it does show them what coding can accomplish. Industry professionals are hoping that by showing kids what coding can do early on, they will be able to apply this information to their future interests and potentially turn a passion into a career. Whether they become the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates isn't for sure, but you can bet that these kids will have real-world skills that they can use to carve their niche in the technological industry.
What are your thoughts on teaching children how to code with video games? Do you or your kids play Minecraft? Let us know in the comments.