Kids love Minecraft.

I can’t lie, I love it too. While I don’t game nearly as much as I used to, if we are stuck in the house, Minecraft is one of the few games I feel okay with my son seeing or playing.

Mojang and Microsoft recently introduced an education edition of the game. When I hear about educational editions of popular games, I become a little skeptical (does anybody remember playing “educational” computer games we played in the 80’s/90’s)?

To be fair, the Mojang team isn’t saying that Minecraft should be a major educational tool in the classroom, at least not yet. Per The Verge:

That includes improving Minecraft’s mapping feature so that a class can actually find its way around, letting teachers lock in certain resources for students to use, and adding an in-game camera and scrapbook to handle screenshots for cataloging where you’ve been. Microsoft is quick to emphasize that its keeping the changes minor because it doesn’t want to make Minecraft into a straight educational product

But does Minecraft have legitimate educational applications?

That really depends on teachers and educationally-focused users developing areas and content that would be helpful in a classroom context. The whole experiment hinges on an educational community coming together to develop content. Another Minecraft educational group (which has been folded into the education edition) has been working on methods to teach programming language to children via the game.

How does a student learn to program playing the game?

Part of the game’s massive popularity is the ability to develop mods. Mods are like custom cheat codes that savvy players can create. Some educational groups want to leverage the mod system as a gateway to teach children programming.

I have to admit that is a good way to introduce the concepts of programming to younger kids and to get them interested in developing for themselves. Ultimately, programming is problem solving and the game certainly develops problem solving skills.

I think the Minecraft crew have a ways to go before the game can be classified as a true educational asset, but for the teams that are focused on using it as a gateway for programming, they are on to something and I could see using Minecraft to introduce programming to my son when the time is right.