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Minecraft Video Game is Building a Revolution–Inside the Classroom with Game-Based Learning

Educators from schools to summer camps are incorporating Mojang’s popular title into their core curricula.

Campbell, CA – A group of friends scurry inside after some outdoor fun.  It’s time for a relaxing change of pace–video games.   They settle in, flip on the computer, and wait.  Blocks, colors, and characters fill the screen.  But the kids aren’t home.  They’re in class.  Eagerly awaiting the day’s lesson from their teacher–with Minecraft.

The established indie “sandbox” game by Swedish development studio Mojang is more popular than ever–40 million people have registered worldwide.  Players traverse vast landscapes of mountains, forests, caves, and various water bodies.  Their characters hunt, sail, and farm while constructing homes and objects by breaking and placing textured cubes in a 3D world.  The goal is to survive, or simply invent.

And here the learning begins.  That’s right, learning.

Most anything imaginable can be performed in Minecraft.  It is the epitome of creativity–limitless opportunity to build, discover, and problem-solve.  To date, over 500 schools have purchased licenses for MinecraftEDU, a version of Minecraft specially-designed for teachers.  One Stockholm institution made Minecraft a mandatory part of its curriculum, requiring students to play to boost creative thinking and learn about “city planning, environmental issues…and even how to plan for the future,” according to a teacher familiar with the program.

It’s a far cry from traditional teaching methods usually reserved for textbooks, internet searches, and history lessons.

The relationship between video games and learning is picking up steam.  But there are still roadblocks.  Budgetary issues, staff development constraints, and pressure on educators to stick to the standardized “core” subjects continue to damper the rollout of game-based instruction.

iD Tech Camps, iD Gaming Academy, and iD Programming Academy STEM-based (Science, Technology, Education, and Math) summer camps in the U.S. are venues where students learn game-based curricula.  The youth and teen camps are held at 60 university campuses including Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, and Yale.  The company has unveiled four new courses based on the Minecraft platform:  3D Game Design with Minecraft, Minecraft–Game Modding & Java™ Coding, and two offerings for teens—Modding & Programming with Minecraft and Game Development–Minecraft

At iD, kids and teens learn from playing the game, but mostly from recreating it.  Students program modifications through Java™, and implement ideas into their own Minecraft worlds.  They are exposed to variables, data types, and operators, and develop an understanding of control flow using conditional statements, loops, and functions.  To gain a competitive edge for college, participants leave camp with a portfolio of their mods to play at home.  Not exactly child’s play.

iD recently launched their 2013 schedule in November, and enrollment has been brisk.

“Our new Minecraft classes have become an instant hit,” says iD Tech Camps President & CEO Pete Ingram-Cauchi. “Parents want kids to have fun during summer—but learning valuable STEM skills along the way is invaluable.  It’s learning without knowing they’re learning—and that is very natural,” said Ingram-Cauchi.

The concept of summer “downtime” is fading–just as the dividing line between video games and education is blurring.  Kids and Teens now look forward to summer tech camps and the free-roaming virtual worlds of Minecraft to learn and play.  With game-based curricula, students don’t even realize which is which.

More information about Mojang and Minecraft can be found at www.mojang.com.

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