Using Minecraft: Raspberry Pi Edition to get kids computing
After a workshop last week, Clive, our Director of Educational Development, sent me the following in an email:
A parent came up to me, and said: “I’m concerned that on Minecraft you can blow things up with TNT, it’s all about destruction, I’m worried about the effect on children…”
If you ever want to make a six-foot-one Liverpudlian with a motorcycle cry, just repeat that sentence to him. Clive has been inconsolable for days. Why? Because Minecraft: Raspberry Pi Edition is a teaching and learning tool we’ve found absolutely invaluable. It’s a powerful way to get kids who didn’t realise they had an aptitude for programming excited about the Pi; it’s a creative, constructive tool; kids and teachers love it; and we find it’s enormously popular with kids all over the world. At an event this weekend, Carrie Anne Philbin and Alex Bradbury witnessed children crying (and I promise we are not the sort of people who try to make children cry) when asked to allow other kids to have a go.
Here’s Martin O’Hanlon, of Stuff About Code, to explain why teaching with Minecraft is such a good idea. This video was filmed at last month’s Raspberry Jamboree: thanks to Alan O’Donohoe for filming it.
We’re very close to launching our new website now: you’ll be able to see it, and the learning resources we’re producing, around the beginning of April. We’ll have plenty of Minecraft resources to show you then, packaged for teachers and for pupils. We hope you’ll enjoy using them as much as we have enjoyed making them.
I can’t wait for this ‘new website’ ;-)
Raspberry Pi Staff liz — post author
Nor can we – we’re killing ourselves getting everything ready!
Martin is a legend. Fact. I couldn’t have written chapter 6 of ‘Adventures in RPi’ without his help and support.
O please, you make me blush… Your the legend!
I have to say, Minecraft seems pretty safe to me. But that person would probably not listen to me, as I am pretty sure they would not approve of the childhood I had (involving fewer computers and a lot more deflagration, if not actual detonation).
Raspberry Pi Staff liz — post author
I used to set fire to things in the woods with my best friend, who was the son of a fireman…we were very safe, though. Because he was the son of a fireman, so we knew everything.
Blowing things up with TNT (or nuclear weapons, given the right mod) is only one possible thing you can do with Minecraft, and not one people do often, in my experience. In fact, usually you’re trying to keep things from being blown up, by creepers…
Loud bang and explosion.
Steps to reproduce:
1. Take a 2-litre bottle (plastic)
2. Remove the label
3. Fill 1/3 with tiny crumpled balls of aluminium foil
4. Fill to 2/3 with a mixture of toilet cleaner and water (1:1 ratio I think)
5. Put on lid
6. Go outside in a BIG area
7. Shake for a while until it is hard to squeeze/shake
8. Put on ground
9. Stand well back and wait for a while
10. Error reproduced!
I do not take responsibility for damage/injury/death.
It is a good idea to video this :-)
The concerned parent might be interested in the following :) taken from http://arghbox.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/minecraftbook.pdf
1 import mcpi.minecraft as minecraft
2 mc = minecraft.Minecraft.create()
4 mc.setting(world_immutable, True)
Well done Nicholas, very impressive how much you have learnt in such a short amount of time, not only that but being able to make the ideas you have work.
Kudos for the book too.
Thanks Dazzler :)
In Minecraft you make stuff, and occasionally blow stuff up. In most other games that children are interested in at that age, they are either smashing police cars up (Need for Speed) or shooting people (every first person shooter ever).
Minecraft seems a safe option!
I hope that Minecraft pi edition will get an update. It hasn’t had an update in a long time and it is lacking some features.
It’s ironic that TNT was singled out as its mechanics give rise to LOTS of learning opportunities, and not just in programming terms.
Starter activity: Demo Minecraft with TNT exploding then ask, “How does a programmer make TNT explode? What’s going on?” Send the kids off to discuss it and they come back with things like: make the block flash/change colour; speed up flashing; add a sound; delete TNT block; remove other blocks; throw some blocks around; play explosion sound etc etc.
But how do you remove the ground/buildings that are “blown up”? One way is to make a sphere of ‘air’ blocks centred on the TNT. How do you work out if a block is inside that blast radius? Maths (spherical coordinates, point inclusion etc). Yes, Minecraft Maths! Coming to a good maths classroom near you soon ;)
Anyway, I love it! Let’s blow stuff up. :D
Dynamic physics would be good to have too.
A tower for example blown up on one side could fall how it should rather than straight down.
You can blow stuff up in the Pi Edition??? How did I miss THAT??? As far as I’m concerned, the more virtual explosions, the better!!! I’d much rather students be trying stuff out that way than to discover what the lethal blast radius of a stick of dynamite (or even the hand/eye-loss count for a blasting cap) is in person. Real explosives also teach others (but not the errant practitioner, unfortunately) about Evolution In Action – how In-DUH-viduals take themselves out of the gene pool before they get a chance to reproduce. The ne’er-do-wells also put themselves in the running for posthumously winning a Darwin Award for the year of their demise – posthumously is the only way to win one, BTW.
Minecraft needs to be integrated with Khan Academy (Khancraft Academy? COPYRIGHT, TRADEMARK, and DOMAIN NAME CLAIMED! :lol:) and then we’ll see some real edumacatin’ goin’ on world-wide. I would love nothing better than to have the assessment features in Khan Academy linked into Minecraft so that each automated task is given credit, and when all of the programming elements required for a given level have been successfully implemented, the student receives a skill badge for the specific programming skill. I’ve got ideas for enough skill badges to keep poor Ladyada up all night contracting with badge manufacturers for a Plutonian year – free SNOBOL skill badge to the first student to comment on how long a period that is! ;)
As I’ve noted before, kids just love Minecraft and are willing to be the victims of unnatural acts bordering on Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity pledge initiation pranks to be allowed to build problem-solving landscapes, structures, and machines using Minecraft in class. That, and getting to give my speech-recognizing R2D2 robots verbal commands, playing with the Pii, arduously developing sketches using Arduinos, and lots of other fun stuff. A quadcopter just landed from China – well, via a USPS truck and probably some wide-body aircraft. Can you spell four times the fun … and potential trouble as we expand computing into three very large, high-speed dimensions?
Whoa… can I transfer to your computer class? I’m willing to get up at 2:00 am to get on a plane every morning if I have to!
We will be going virtual with our material on-line, which will draw from the Foundation’s educational content as well as that from other on-line educational and instructional sources, including the Computer History Museum (http://www.ComputerHistory.org) where I’m senior docent, Jam Disorganizer in Chief, Babbage Engine presenter, power supply, and clock, and artifact restoration engineer (we replace more discrete transistor logic before 9 AM than most people have their entire career! :lol:).
I suppose I should be producing a line of lecture videos to go along with the material, but I’m not nearly as photogenic (talk about Understatement of the Year) as others here who have already done a fantastic job at that (Alex, Carrie Anne, and a cast of seemingly thousands). Plus, I just don’t look that swell in a leotard, head/wrist sweatbands, and a ‘fro hairstyle (hey, it was the 1980s and I’m from “Joisey”, so fuhgeddaboudid!). Hmmm, I’m sensing somebody nominating a certain someone for a challenge to raise millions for the Foundation by posting videos of lectures in such garb – Jane Fonda would probably laugh her you-know-what off, which would also be worth it. Contributions must be made in small denominations in large quantities and deposited in a secret account for which even I don’t know the number :lol:
Approximately 71851227817511520000 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom :-D
But what’s an electron shell transition or two between friends? :D
This is a really engaging talk!
Three of my grandkids are minecrafters, and I want them to see this (if they haven’t already).
Thanks for the post and the talk.
Minecraft Pi Edition has been great for getting kids interested in Python. We ran Martin’s examples along with others at Minecon 2013 and again last weekend for Pi Day events at both FamiLAB and Orlando Science Center.
Although Minecraft PE has limited API functionality so far, it gets the concept of using python to control both software and hardware across to kids very well very quickly. Eben has mentioned one of the objectives of getting a concept across within a 5 minute window to keep kids engaged… well MC Pi Edition and neopixels meet that goal. We used both Arduino and PiFace as separate hardware intermediates. Watch the videos in the link above to see getBlock being used to control the color of RGB pixels in realtime and more…
This parent obvioslely is not a gamer, and has never played Minecraft! Minecraft is a game all about creating stuff, not destroying stuff! Anyway, virtual destruction is much better than real life destruction! Let us take our anger out on digital aliens rather than siblings.
Curious you should mention Minecraft and the Raspberry Pi in the same sentence… at the Digimakers Bristol event on Saturday while I was manning The MagPi stand the number one question was (a variation on): “My kid(s) love Minecraft and the Pi sits in a drawer, can we combine the two?”
I had a copy of Alex and Ben’s Learning Python with Raspberry Pi on the stand and it has a great Minecraft chapter (chapter 8 if I recall, starting page 163 – I flipped to it so many times that day). A fantastic book IMHO.
Plus we’ve covered Minecraft extensively in The MagPi.
Both recommended for your Minecraft programming habit :)
I should add that I was told on several occasions that the Pi sits in a drawer precisely because of Minecraft…
Thank you so much for the kind words Colin, I’m glad you enjoyed the book.
It is even worse! Besides TNT you can destroy objects using a HAMMER, a tool which is readily available for real in most households!
And a bicycle pump!
True story: my two year old niece was playing with a balloon pump the other week, and blowing it at me excitedly proclaiming “I blow you up!”, totally unaware of the other meaning of the phrase :-)
— A parent came up to me, and said: “I’m concerned that on Minecraft you can blow things up with TNT, it’s all about destruction, I’m worried about the effect on children…” —-
When people express fears on behalf of others these are invariably driven by their own deep subconscious fears of what ever it is they claim is a threat to their declared vulnerable demographic.
Clearly this parent is intimidated by computer based technology and is trying to justify and enlist support for the reduction of technologies capabilities of raising their fear levels.
A phrase was used to describe this condition as “Stop the world I want to get off”. It is crucial that the personal fear of luddites are not allowed to hinder the intellectual growth and development of not just children but all people.
Raspberry Pi Staff liz — post author
We do get a steady trickle of emails which say things like: “I am not offended/upset/concerned, but I am sure that *other* people will be by…” [insert totally innocuous thing that we have done]. I’d love to understand the psychology behind this stuff. People seem especially, genuinely threatened by our treating kids as thinking, rational people: kids, on the other hand, love it.
The kids are alright!
I often have to remind myself that as a parent/teacher when observing kids that I subconsciously invent worst case scenarios in my mind’s eye from some sort of innate “protective presponse” mechanism that makes me want to “correct” or “stop” the kid before anything “bad” happens. Yet the only negative outcome from this is the interruptive behavior that the parent/teacher would impose. I’ve had to become aware of my own tendency and then actively prevent myself from disturbing the kids “flow.” Please parents/teachers let the kids be or at least pause for a while.You’ll be amazed at what actually happens! When you do interject mind the kids motivation and intent. Ask them to explain. Say “Show me!” and then take the time to listen and observe.
Also, Kids tend to use tnt in Minecraft to make holes. It’s faster than digging, but not as fast as coding;)
“…but not as fast as coding…”
I found it quite entertaining to watch four lines of code turn the entire MInecraft-Pi world into air :-)
Oh dear if they are worried about virtual TNT best not tell them about the science event I went to last week!
The Big Bang Fair is an annual science, technology, engineering and maths event aimed at children from 7 upwards.
One of the shows there was the Kaboom! show where they made gunpowder and blackpowder – and promptly blew them up, then hit some nitroglycerine with a hammer (very loud bang) and exploded an orange with high explosives (very messy). These were real world explosions – not the virtual world.
The audience were pretty much captivated through the entire show. In the process they learned lots about science, a bit about history and more importantly a feeling that science can be fun. They did have some “don’t try this at home” signs during the show, but the best way to learn is by doing and so they gave a suggestion for an activity that you could try at home “The Mentos Fountain”.
I can confirm that the experiment at home is great fun and the only danger was the trouble I got into with my wife for getting cola in my children’s white T-shirts :-( Video of the Mentos Fountain Challenge.
I saw another science even afterwards where the presenter threw liquid nitrogen on the floor, and again the audience were captivated.
So what’s this got to do with the Raspberry Pi (other than there being lots of Raspberry Pis at the show)? The way to get children interested in learning is to make it fun! If that involves blowing up inanimate objects (in the real or virtual world) then as long as it’s done in a safe manner then that is great. As the Pi version of minecraft doesn’t include any of the hostile creatures (Mobs) then it really is a great way to teach programming.
I’m relieved to see that kind of thing still going on in the real world. While studying as a biochemist I became aware of the shameful lack of interest in chemistry among students, with many courses either dying out or shifting focus to something like phorensics or, ahem, biochemistry. I was and am convinced that the main problem is a shortage of decent explosions in schools: Every good chemistry teacher I’ve met is a pyromaniac, but many of them have toned down their demonstrations in recent decades for fear of Elfen Chafed Tea (or something like that). Instead of being inspired by flashes and bangs, kids get to “ooh” and “aah” over a small tube of liquid turning from brown to yellow.
What we need is a good, cheap DIY firework, to do for chemistry what the Pi is doing for computing. Or failing that, maybe an interesting game for the Pi that can have explosions in it? ;)
While I can’t speak for the child of the concerned parent, most of the children I work with prefer cooperative game play and hate anti-social behavior (e.g. blowing stuff up) on Minecraft servers. It even makes sense: they put a lot of effort into learning about the game and building fortresses. They certainly don’t want to see their creations destroyed.
A prized posession from my childhood is a short piece of copper heating pipe, burts open and folded back like a sculptural orchid. This creative event was triggered by a very exothermic bit of chemistry. (if you get my meaning).. The other prize posesion is all ten fingers and both eyes, more by luck than judgement.
I like blowing up stuff in minecraft. it’s very safe. not sure if i would do that in real world. seems kind of dangerous and unpredictable. and in minecraft it has interesting results. making cannons with TNT is also something i like to do. connecting multiple cannons with various automatic switches and delays is even more fun. i even tried to make them “play” a short song with the bangs. i am not concerned with kids playing the game as long as i am with them to explain to them when get overexcited that it is only a game and not real.
Sonic Pi + Minecraft Pi = Sonic Boom ?
I’ve been using Minecraft Pi in a Code Club at the local primary. The children love it as they are all already so familiar with it anyway. Being able to code right into it is just what they love. I’ve also got Minecraft to interact with the outside world too by getting an LEDBorg to react to the blocks under Steve. Minecraft mine detecting, sort of.
There is so much complexity in the game with redstone wire that these lessons could be extended so much further in depth, love it. Thanks for the post.
I am using Minecraft Pi in my class and hope that Mojang releases a version that allows for friendly mobs (animals & villagers), but not hostile (they get in the way of learning). There are some ways to get animals into the game and they are a great resource for teachng exception handling plus it is a lot more fun to have pigs, chickens and cattle appear than grass blocks.
It would also be nice to be able to control the weather (rain, sunshine) and color animals easier. I can use hex editing to turn on the semi-survival mode so get semi-day night and change the color of sheep, but would be nicer if they were included in the API.
I was looking to use “Learning Python with Raspberry Pi” to encourage my nephew to learn programming. He was keen on being able to run Minecraft on the Raspberri Pi. However when I get to Chapter 8 Controlling Your Minecraft World the reference to download chapter8-minecraft-api.tar.gz from the book’s website at http://www.wiley.com/go/pythonraspi does not have the files for download, just the basic chapter files. Does anyone have an alternate location to obtain the longer code examples and APIs?
Same problems here. Can’t find the api tar file on the wiley website. Cannot use python3 for the minecraft chapter without it. :(
If you want to know more about coding minecraft have a look at my minecraft page http://www.stuffaboutcode.com/p/minecraft.html