REDMOND, Wash. — Any resistance the young people in your life may have to learning basic computer science will effectively melt on Monday, when Microsoft and the non-profit group Code.org release a computer coding tutorial built around … wait for it … Minecraft.
The popular world-building video game, originally a Swedish import, became a Microsoft property a year ago, when the company bought it for an eye-popping $2.5 billion. Now Microsoft is using the game’s popularity to further its mission — and Code.org’s mission — to popularize computer science.
The 14-level tutorial was created for the third annual “Hour of Code,” a campaign that seeks to get educators and young people interested in coding. It takes place this year during the week of Dec. 7–13.
“The meat of our effort is in helping schools, training teachers and establishing computer science courses,” said Hadi Partovi, Code.org’s CEO and co-founder. The group hopes to make computer science part of most schools’ curricula — it has had a few key successes so far, helping persuade Chicago Public Schools to make it a graduation requirement, for instance. San Francisco and New York schools are also bringing coding into every school, Partovi said.
They’ve also seen millions of students and about 100,000 teachers worldwide participate in the Hour of Code.
But in too many places, he said, computer science is seen as “this black magic field” open only to a few. “Only the genius, 18-year-old, usually white, nerdy boys in a dark basement are seen as the people who do computer science,” Partovi said. “We wanted to change that stereotype.”
Designed for users as young as 6 years old, the new tutorial introduces players to basic coding skills by inviting them to explore, mine and build in a specially designed, two-dimensional Minecraft world by plugging together “drag-and-drop” blocks of commands that guide the onscreen characters. In the process, players generate computer code.
Deirdre Quarnstrom, director of Minecraft Education, said educators love the game “because their students are really engaged” while playing it. Part of the idea came from visiting classrooms, she said, where students would tell her that they loved the game, but wanted to try out coding too.
The new version actually allows players to see the code they write as they solve each level. But Partovi said the Code.org version won’t ruin the magic of actual Minecraft, which last year surpassed 100 million registered users — about as many as have participated in the Hour of Code.
“When you’re in a classroom, you’re not comparing it to the Minecraft you could be playing at home because you’re not at home,” he said. “You’re comparing it to the multiple-choice quiz on the capitals of countries you’re never going to visit. Compared to what you would otherwise be doing for school, this is, like, the best thing ever.”
The new tutorial is available at: https://www.code.org/mc
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