Microsoft’s popular video game Minecraft helping student learn everything from programming, science and math to art, languages and history.
Concerned because you can’t pry your daughter away from Minecraft? Worried that your son spends every moment obsessing over moves in the super-popular video game? Chill. It turns out that Minecraft builds up brain cells instead of dissolving them.
Minecraft isn’t about bloody broadswords and burning rubber. It has no complex story lines or gorgeously rendered images of alien soldiers. Instead, it’s filled with people, animals, trees and buildings that look as if they were built from digital Legos. And in a way, they were: The Minecraft universe is made up of blocks representing materials such as dirt, trees, stone, ores and water. Players mine and then use these blocks to craft the shelters, tools and weapons they need to protect themselves against nightly attacks from monsters called “mobs.”
“I just love the programming aspect. It allows you to change the game itself,” says Aiden LaFrance, a 10-year-old from Raton, New Mexico, who has been playing Minecraft since he was 6. Aiden’s latest project is a portcullis — the defensive gate that protected medieval castles — that rises automatically when a character walks in front of it. He details his work on YouTube, complete with an explanation of how double-piston extenders and a torch tower make it work.“I would love to be a programmer,” says Aiden. “I see Minecraft as helping me get there.”
THE CREATIVE SPARK
“Because there’s no overt goal, no immediate plot, no structure, you have the flexibility and freedom to do what you want,” says Jeff Haynes of Common Sense Media, which rates software and games for age appropriateness and gives Minecraft a top “learning” score. “It fosters life skills like creativity, curiosity, exploration and teamwork.”
Today, educators use Minecraft to help teach everything from science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to language, history and art. But it’s the kids who showed the way, turning Minecraft into a constructive tool by publishing tutorials, sharing designs and code, and helping each other online.
“Minecraft caught everybody off guard,” says Johan Kruger, a programmer known in the Minecraft world as Dragnoz. His YouTube tutorials are watched by more than 129,000 subscribers. “Before anybody knew its power or that it could be educational, the kids already took over and owned the world.”
Minecraft-literate kids often run rings around parents wanting to keep up. That was definitely true for Aiden’s parents, Garrett and Liz LaFrance, who incorporated the game into Aiden’s home-school studies. “He ended up teaching us most of what we know about Minecraft,” says his mom.