Minecraft Modding Software Puts Scratch-like Coding IDE in the Hands of...

Minecraft Modding Software Puts Scratch-like Coding IDE in the Hands of Educators

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ThoughtSTEM officially releases LearnToMod to educators teaching computer science.

KATY, TX, May 2016 — With funding support from the National Science Foundation, San Diego-based education startup, ThoughtSTEM, is currently launching a new computer science education initiative, sharing its LearnToMod Minecraft Modding Software with educators everywhere, for-profit and non-profit, at no cost. Lindsey Handley, Ph.D., ThoughtSTEM Co-Founder, was a product of Katy ISD schools before completing her undergrad work at Trinity University in San Antonio and then moving to San Diego to complete her Doctorate at UCSD. Dr. Handley wants local area teachers to know about this free initiative now. Summer is a perfect time for educators to explore LearnToMod’s features and consider the learning potential for their classrooms for the upcoming school year.

The initiative enables any educator access to the software for all students in their classroom, access to private Minecraft servers, and access to professional development through Coursera.

LearnToMod allows educators to immerse students in computer science within the popular video game, Minecraft. Minecraft “mods”, or modifications to the game, are incredibly popular amongst students and many students want to learn how to code in order to create these mods. LearnToMod (www.learntomod.com) strives to make Minecraft modding as simple as MIT’s well-known drag-and-drop programming language, Scratch (scratch.mit.edu). Like Scratch, students are able to make interesting things happen on their computer screen just by putting together a few blocks of code. For example, students can build this simple Minecraft mod that spawns 100 creepers around them:

Minecraft Modding Software Puts Scratch photo
A simple Minecraft mod built in LearnToMod that spawns 100 creepers.

Despite its apparent simplicity, the visual programming language LearnToMod uses enables students to create large, powerful pieces of software that dramatically alter Minecraft gameplay. Since the software officially launched in early 2015, LearnToMod students and teachers have created and shared thousands of mods that showcase impressive feats of code-writing, including: multiplayer Minecraft arena mini-games, code that creates entirely new weapons and blocks that are useful in Minecraft, and even code that spawns Ninja Turtle-like characters that will protect your avatar in the game. Students and teachers can learn the basics of computer science through hundreds of Minecraft modding tutorials available through the software.

“Our goal is to make modding Minecraft accessible to students at any age. We’ve used LearnToMod in our San Diego after-school programs for over a year now, and our students have a blast while they’re learning real-world skills”, says ThoughtSTEM CEO, Stephen Foster, Ph.D. “Computer Science education is so important right now. We want to make sure other educators have access to this tool.”

If you haven’t yet jumped on the “Mindcraft” bandwagon, Minecraft has been heralded as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for educators to engage with K-12 students in computer science (CS). Mods (i.e. code written to alter Minecraft gameplay) have become immensely popular amongst students, with the most popular mods receiving millions of downloads and the most popular Youtube Minecraft modding celebrities entertaining millions of subscribers. Because of the overwhelming popularity of Minecraft mods, millions of K-12 students now have an intrinsic motivation to learn coding. That’s right: kids WANT to learn a challenging real-world skill — a skill which leads to hundreds of thousands of high satisfaction, high earning U.S. jobs.

Although LearnToMod isn’t the first tool for teaching computer science through Minecraft, it is the first tool that teaches through modding (i.e. “modifying”) Minecraft. Other Computer Science projects related to Minecraft include the well-known ComputerCraftEdu mod, which allows students to program “turtle robots” in Minecraft, and Microsoft and Mojang’s Hour of Code challenge that uses Minecraft-inspired elements to teach computer science through a fun, top-down programming game.

“Our vision is to make a big impact in computer science education by inspiring students through the video games they love,” says ThoughtSTEM COO, Lindsey Handley, Ph.D. “In addition to helping us freely share the software with educators, the NSF also funds an amazing partnership we have with the Advanced Computing Group at the University of Maine to help educators in rural communities teach computer science using our Minecraft modding software. We’re hoping to support more educators through partnerships like these in the future!”

LearnToMod is funding further development efforts by selling annual subscriptions to its Minecraft modding software to users outside of classrooms for $29.99/year. The annual subscription fees help pay for the cost of the private Minecraft servers that come complimentary to the software, but mostly help to fund LearnToMod developers hacking away to make computer science education available for students everywhere.

To date, 46,000 LearnToMod students have progressed through over 1 million Minecraft modding tutorials that teach core computer science concepts like variables, loops, functions, and event-driven programming.

Teachers who are interested in accessing LearnToMod for free in their classrooms are invited to register at http://www.learntomod.com/educators/.