With more than 105 million copies sold worldwide, it’s safe to say Minecraft has taken the world by storm. The video game - which blends the pixely nostalgia of 80s arcade games with modern computing - is popular amongst younger and older gamers alike.
But while many parents would baulk at the thought of gaming being counted as an educational activity, three U.K. MVPs are on a mission to flip that thinking on its head. Andy Cross, Richard Conway and Allan Mitchell host AzureCraft, an educational event series that marries the worlds of Minecraft and Azure - and get kids and parents thinking like technical experts together!
The first AzureCraft session took place in summer 2016 at Microsoft UK Headquarters in Reading, and saw almost 800 participants. Here, parents were taught how to create safe environments for their kids within the game, and how to deploy the Minecraft server.
According to Ricard, being able to watch parents and kids work together and relate through Minecraft is an experience within itself. “It helps bring together the family as opposed to technology breaking it apart,” he said.
And more, says Andy, AzureCraft gives non-technical parents the chance to learn about technology they otherwise likely wouldn’t have had access to.
The second AzureCraft session in December took it up a notch - it actually taught children how to program Minecraft. With the mod ComputerCraft, participants were able to create a virtual environment within the game to write programs using the language LUA.
They were then given challenges to complete throughout the day - like create ‘turtles’, which are basically tiny robots, and program them to do things in the game. Even further, the kids were given the tools to create an Internet within the game, so they could send messages between each other.
And while you’d think the challenges were quite mathematical and ambitious, says Richard, the kids really blew everyone away. “The level of depth and precision [from] a ten-year-old kid was just phenomenal,” he said.
Some kids were so smart and creative, they were able to present back to the audience what they’d done within 20 minutes.
The next AzureCraft event will take place on May 6th at London’s Imperial College. And this time it incorporates AI, to really teach kids the skills they need to be the next generation of engineers.
With Project Malmo, a Microsoft Research initiative, participants will learn how to build intelligent agents into Minecraft, and then teach them how to navigate through the game - including how to run through a maze, and what a ladder looks like so they can climb it. All in all, it will help kids and parents think about machine learning in a more abstract way.
“Parents actually [get] to see this as not a game, but rather a creative canvas,” says Richard.
For more information about the next AzureCraft event on May 6th, check out this link. We can’t wait to hear all about it!