Can Playing Minecraft Teach Kids To Code?

Coding Games

Can Playing Minecraft Teach Kids To Code?

JUNCO: I think that its important to not just talk with your kids about what theyre doing online, but not make it a shameful activity, you know. Encourage them to talk about it. Set limits on it. Youre the parent, so you need to set limits on your kids. And if youre upset that theyre playing too much, then you need to do something about it.

MARTIN: Im interested in something you just said, which is that thats why its important not to shame people…

MARTIN: Well, as you just heard, Minecraft is a game of strategy in which players build, create and go on adventures in the virtual world. A lot of people who play the game are children and teens. And while they are playing, our next guest says they might actually be absorbing some important lessons about technology and coding. Rey Junco is our guest. Hes an associate professor of Library Science at Purdue University and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. And he visits us from time to time to talk about technology and learning. And hes here with us in Washington, D.C. Welcome.

JUNCO: Right. And it sets an expectation for the game culture, too that, oh, look, were building things. Thats what the game is about. Its not about tearing down. Its about these neat things that we could do.

MARTIN: …You can do things that you might not have thought that you could do. And then you can do it.

JUNCO: Well, actually, there is a coding element to Minecraft for those youth who do mods. So you can change the game around to your liking, and you can share those mods with other people. One of my colleagues just this past week said, its the only way that I can get my young daughter interested in coding. And so here she is on Minecraft doing all of this coding. And I think in that sense, its a really interesting equalizer.

MARTIN: So you can say do whatever you want. I mean, it does – and it has some kind of connection to reality. But youre not actually coding?

MARTIN: participating in these kinds of experiences.

MARTIN: Tell us a little bit more about Minecraft for people whove never seen it?

Can Playing Minecraft Teach Kids To Code?

But then if you look at teenagers, right, theyre spending screen time on connecting with their friends. And so its important for them to do that. Theyve just spent a whole day at school and, perhaps, extracurricular activities, you know, doing things that other people are telling them to do, and now they want to socialize. And they do that online. So I think it really depends on the childs age, and it depends on your child. And it depends on your goals for raising your child.

MARTIN: You know, one of the things weve talked to you about before is security online and the concern that many parents, caregivers, guardians, educators have about people, kids in particular, interacting with adults online who may be masquerading as kids, right? So is there any concern about that since, as weve noticed, that the game has evolved to the point where you could either be by yourself or you could play with other players? You can connect with other players. You dont know who they are.

JUNCO: Period, right. I mean, I would think before, at least, you know, the age of 2 or 3, a child should never be around a screen. And then I think it depends on the child, and it depends on the activity. Screen time is still screen time. So when theyre doing Minecraft, which I think is a fantastic game for these informal learning objectives that weve discussed, its still screen time. And so I think its important for kids to be connected with others.

MARTIN: …Which I think a lot of people think is an important value. Well, finally, Rey, screen time. How much screen time? Its this ongoing preoccupation…

JUNCO: Sure. I think if children feel like theyre doing an activity that is bad or shameful, theyre going to be less likely to talk with their parents about it. So if we dont create an environment where theyre feeling that way about it, then theyre more likely to share it with us.

Now wed like to talk about a popular form of entertainment – video games. And you may fall into one of two camps here – love them or at least you understand why people can spend hours playing them, or hate them and you associate them with mindless violence, sexism and or just a waste of time. Well, if youre in the hate or dont-understand-them category, you might not be familiar with Minecraft. But its one of the most popular games out there right now. It has more than 100 million registered users.

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Can Playing Minecraft Teach Kids To Code?

While young Minecraft players are building virtual castles or protecting themselves from monsters, they could also be learning about technology.

MARTIN: How would you – how would you want us to think about this issue given that what youre telling us is that not all screen time is the same?

MARTIN: …Even if you find their attention and participation unwelcome?

MARTIN: Could you talk a little bit more about that?

MARTIN: Rey Junco is an associate professor of Library Science at Purdue University and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. And we caught up with him in Washington, D.C. Rey Junco, thanks so much for joining us.

MARTIN: But can you keep people out of the game whose behavior disturbs you? For example, somebody who seems to just show up wherever you are or follow you around the game…

JUNCO: Yeah. There are moderators on servers that can help protect that.

While young Minecraft players are building virtual castles or protecting themselves from monsters, they could also be learning about technology.Tell Me Morelooks at lessons from the game.

Can Playing Minecraft Teach Kids To Code?

Can Playing Minecraft Teach Kids To Code?

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REY JUNCO: Thanks, Michel. Its great to be here.

In my experience, there seems to be more of a gender balance in Minecraft players than other video games, certainly other games like Halo or Lego Star Wars or things like that. And so, in that sense, it can get women – young girls and then women interested in coding and then, perhaps, also in STEM fields.

JUNCO: Minecraft I think is a little different than other games because when I think about Minecraft, I dont just think of it as a videogame. I think of it as, perhaps, a videogame slash building toy. So not only are youth learning visuospatial reasoning skills and, you know, construction and being creative, but theyre also learning things like being able to have some control over their environment and not being rule-based so they can explore. I like to talk about with our kids that we like to let them get bored so they can be more creative. And they can do that on Minecraft because there arent the, you know, limits on their space or time that are out there in the real world.

JUNCO: OK, well, its an interesting game. If youre familiar with typical videogames, the graphics arent as pretty. They are pretty retro and lower grade. But the game is an open world environment where players can just build a world. There are two different modes. And one is creative that allows for just building and having, you know – having fun, you know, building a home or spaces or landscapes. And then theres a survival mode thats more like a typical game where users have to watch out for their health and their enemies that might attack them, and they have to eat and stay alive. And like many other games now, there are multiplayer modes. People can join a server and play with other people online.

MARTIN: So you can play by yourself. You can play with other people. Whats good about it, particularly speaking to people who generally feel that these kinds of experiences are a waste of time?

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MARTIN: If youre just joining us, were talking about what you can learn from a game like Minecraft. Its not your, perhaps, typical videogame or at least its not the kind of game that many people think it is. Im speaking with Rey Junco, and were talking about the fact that maybe there are some things that you can learn from Minecraft that are actually useful and not just fun. And youre saying that Minecraft is a little different from other video games…

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Lets go to a place where everything is made of blocks, where the only limit is your imagination. Lets go wherever you want to go, climb the tallest mountains, venture down to the darkest caves, build anything you want.

JUNCO: Well, I think about screen time in this way – the younger the child, the less time they should be in front of the screen, right. So…

MARTIN: …Following people, blowing things up is not the object? You can blow things up if you want.

MARTIN: …And that is because why? Because hurting somebodys not the object or…

MARTIN: And he gives them ideas. Theyre ideas that

JUNCO: Yeah, TNT seems to be, you know, like an interesting thing. Like, you know, kids are like, oh, you can get TNT in this mode, or, you know, you can get TNT in the computer version. But thats not the object of the game. The object of the game is seeing how to build things and how cool your building or objects are. As a matter of fact, there are YouTube videos. Stampy Longnose is one of the real famous ones where he will post videos of him creating things. And those videos are really popular with game players. And so it used to be that – you and I grew up, you know, watching cartoons before and after school. Now kids get home and they say, hey, you know, can I watch YouTube? Can I watch Stampy? And so, in addition to playing…

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MARTIN: …Of parents, caregivers and educators everywhere.

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