Lessons learned from teaching Minecraft coding workshops

castle

In the past few months, I have had the opportunity to lead Minecraft coding workshops using ScriptCraft in our makerspace and a local museum.   Walter Higgins had done an amazing job of creating documentation and tools to help students learn JavaScript while playing with Minecraft.    I wanted to share some reflections on teaching this workshop to support others who might do similar coding dojo’s for young makers.

What went well?

  • Parents + Students = Win! In our most recent classes, we adjusted our space and class invite to welcome parents to learn along with their students.   I enjoyed seeing the parents getting engaged in the material just as much as the student.    For the students that were pair programming with their parents, it looked like they were having a fun time.
  • Adapting to broad age range: In executing this workshop, we served students middle, high school and adult students.   I believe we can do this kind of workshop because of our amazing mentors and the fantastic tools provided from code.org and Khan Academy.   If someone already has experience with block programming, we pushed them to learn hand crafted Javascript.   We also created a detailed class content outline and instructions.   If a student wants to move faster than the class, we empower them to move forward.   I also believe having great mentors in the workshop helps too.  We try to make sure we have a mentor for every 5 students.
  • The following workshop order worked well
    • 1 hour – Hour of code on code.org.  This helps the students obtain the core ideas of programming: loops, sequencing, variables, decision making.
    • 1 hour – During this hour, we allow the students to enter a common Scriptcraft server.  The students have the ability to upload javascript files into the server.   We scripted out instructions to help students install Notepad++, NppFTP, Text Mate, or Filezilla FTP.   In the world that we built, we distributed signs with sample ScriptCraft commands.   Some students enjoyed finding these signs and trying out the commands.
  • I really wanted the students to make a concept jump from block programming to JavaScript programming.   To that end, I’ve created a small tool that sketches out ScriptCraftJS mods based on a blockly program.   This seemed to work well.
  • Many student just enjoyed building a Minecraft server.   It was cool to see their excitement in learning that they could build and host a server for their own Minecraft building parties.   In building a Minecraft server, the students had to follow steps a network engineer might do like installing java, putting file in a particular location on the computer, and using the command line.

What can be improved?

  • Learning from server crashes: Sometimes the students think too big!  It’s really fun to see the students test the limits of software.   It’s very common for students to try to make very large blocks of mushrooms or TNT.   The server usually doesn’t handle this scale of work.  So… the students learn a lesson in making sure that their requests of the system are reasonable.
  • Clarity of support scripts: We’re going to continue to increase the clarity of the scripts and lab instructions we’ve created for the class.   For advanced students, they seemed to enjoy working ahead of the class using the instructions.
  • Reviewing sample programs: I think we could have generated more diversity of work if we created a tutorial where the students executed and inspected existing sample programs of a higher complexity.   I hope this would help spark more ideas.   It’s great that I have the sample programs built already!  In DroidScript or Arduino, you can make tons of interesting software by combining code and ideas from well crafted samples.

I do want to give a shout out to my friends who help co-teach this workshop with me.   I really appreciate their time in helping to inspire the next generation of game developers!

 

growingLoop
S
tudent learning about loops and variables

 

random

Sample programs from our ScriptCraft server

 

stairs

 

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