Minecraft: Education Edition launches new coding extension for kids


Many K-12 students have grown up playing Minecraft, which is why thousands of their schools have already signed onto Microsoft’s Minecraft: Education Edition since it rolled out last fall. But the latest update, launched Monday, includes an extension that teaches students how to write code while playing the game they’ve learned to navigate with ease.

Code Builder, the extension for Minecraft: Education Edition, also widens learning opportunities by partnering with learn-to-code platforms like Tynker, ScratchX and Microsoft’s MakeCode, which help students begin to grasp basic coding functions.

The new capabilities are expected to help K-12 educators expand efforts to promote computer science skills in the classroom, including how to work with basic computer code, like JavaScript.

Thousands of educators signed up for the Code Builder beta when it was announced at the start of the month. At the time, Steve Isaacs, a middle school teacher in the Bernards Township School District in northern New Jersey, was already on board.

Isaacs had gotten involved with the beta in April, soon before it went public. Since then, he has purchased about 600 licenses to the game so each of his 7th-grade and 8th-grade students can have access.

The Code Builder extension comes free with the purchase of Minecraft: Education Edition, which costs $5 per student per year, said Neal Manegold, senior manager for Minecraft Education. They aim to keep costs under or around $100 per classroom per year, including at-home use for students.

The Code Builder extension works with Windows 10 and Apple’s macOS Sierra or higher. For now, it only operates on personal computers, not devices with mobile operating systems.

The beauty of Code Builder, Isaacs said, is students can see instantly how their coding translates to an action or adjustment in the Minecraft game.

“Students can continue to build and trouble shoot what they’re doing in real time,” Isaacs said. “It’s very powerful to see that.”

With Code Builder, kids can use code to customize their Minecraft world — and the possibilities are endless, a spokesperson for Tynker said. They can change the color of rolling hills, dress plain buildings in Medieval-style architecture and direct animals to chase each other around in circles.

Code Builder also helps students develop a range of computer skills — from executing simple commands, such as moving forward or turning left, to more advanced code-writing, Isaacs said. Some of his students at Williams Annin Middle School have caught on quickly to coding that uses blocks of instructions and have already begun learning JavaScript.

“You can toggle easily between block-based and JavaScript,” Isaacs said. “It makes the game very scalable.”

Manegold said his team worked closely with MakeCode, the new open source platform from Microsoft, to make that transition possible.

Prior to this week’s launch, the Minecraft Education team made several last-minute adjustments to the game based on daily feedback it received from thousands of educators, including Isaacs, over the last couple of months. For instance, someone requested they add the ability to create geometric shapes, like spheres, in the game. That was one of their most recent additions, Manegold said.

Since the November launch of Minecraft: Education Edition, over 120,000 users have logged in from more than 100 countries. Teachers who tried out the Code Builder beta or who had already been using Minecraft: Education Edition have asked Minecraft Education for more training materials, like webinars and tutorials. Isaacs said he had noticed an increase in explanatory videos since he first became involved in Code Builder.

“One of our biggest hurdles is making sure we partner with educators to overcome any hurdles and nervousness,” Manegold said.

Cathy Cheo-Isaacs, an educational technology specialist at a private school in New York City, said gaining confidence has been her biggest challenge in using with Code Builder. Minecraft is almost second nature for her students, but she had to learn it all for the first time.

Isaacs and Cheo-Isaacs, who are married and serve as Global Mentors for Minecraft Education, both praised the value the Code Builder extension brings to their classrooms.

“If you just put a little extra brain power and thought to [the game], what you can accomplish is really amazing,” Isaacs said. “It’s so rewarding when you figure out, finally, how to do this in code.”

“I’ve learned so much about teaching and learning through working with my students on Minecraft,” Isaacs added. “It changed my approach — I started seeing the kids as the experts, I put the learning in their hands and empowered students to problem solve.”