Minecraft in the classroom?

Last week I ran a short session at Campus London with a roomful of students from local schools. Only one of the students had seen a Raspberry Pi before and only a couple had used a command line interface or seen a computer program. In just over an hour they learned how to set up the Raspberry Pi, did a bit of Linux and then hacked Minecraft using Python. Here’s what they thought of it:

“I used a raspberry pi and it showed me how exciting and useful new technology can be. Also learning simple coding was very useful and made me want to learn more. It made me more interested in technology and coding. It made me really consider my careers options involving technology.” —William

“This has pushed me to finish my game I am currently developing.” —Joseph

“It has made me interested about learning coding. I have realised coding isn’t as hard as I thought.” —Lara

“I want to learn more about programming, because it was really interesting.” —Ellie

“The most important thing I learned was how to use Raspberry Pi.” —Finley

Running minecraft from the command line

“The most important thing I learned was how to change the commands to Mine Craft.” —Harjoat

“We had a go using a device called a Raspberry Pi which let us hack into a game and let us give it commands. It was really fun and exciting to learn all these new things.” —Jasmine

Reading these comments makes me smile, it was a fantastic session and shows what you can learn in short amount of time. A few lessons jump out from the feedback:

  1. When given the opportunity, most young people find computing to be a powerful and exciting thing.
  2. Everyone gets something different out of learning how to tell a computer what to do.
  3. Play is a powerful way to learn and computers are a good way to play.

These lessons are hardly new—it’s where Logo, Scratch and Lego Mindstorms come from—but what has changed is the accessibility and opportunity. With a £30 computer and a free game you can learn computer science in a beautiful, constructionist sandbox. (“Why dig when you can code?” “Are you an Alpha or an Epsilon?” “Hack with your brain, not with your pickaxe.” And other rubbish aphorisms coming soon to a T-shirt near you.) Quite simply, you can teach yourself to think in powerful ways while messing about. I don’t know about you, but as a teacher I think that this is quite profound.

Hacking Pi Minecraft using the API and Python.

I’m going to blog more about Pi Minecraft in future; I think that its potential as a teaching and learning tool is huge.  I’ll be writing lesson plans for it and hopefully not just computing lessons: Martin O’Hanlon’s analogue clock for example would be a brilliant to teach trig and geometry in the constructionist stylee. If anyone out there—teachers, programmers, Notch, whoever—want to help then get in touch. The School of Minecraft has a nice ring to it don’t you think?

P.S. Campus is an amazing place: if you are a tech start-up or entrepreneur (or would like to be!) and can get down there, check it out. I love it.