It’s a simple fact of life that our children are going to need skills that we don’t even know exist. Their world is moving fast, and is ever more digital. My 9yr old is a slow handwriter but she can touch type whilst holding another conversation in the room – now I’m good, but I’m not that good.
Naturally, where there’s tech-savvy kids in the house, there’s Minecraft. We’ve been old friends for a very long time indeed – my oldest is 17, and when he was eleven he asked if he could try this weird new blocky building game which was still in Beta version. I had a look, didn’t get it, but agreed. Obviously he would tire of it in a week, but he was ill and on strict bedrest; it seemed like a good way to fill a few hours.
Shows what I knew…
For six years now I’ve been listening to various YouTubers, endlessly admiring Minecraft builds, had irritatingly catchy Minecraft parody earworms for days and been genuinely surprised and proud of various redstone ingeniousness. The oldest has moved on, obviously, but his three younger siblings have all followed in his Minecraft path – and I actually caught No.1 son just last night sitting quietly building a house for a little peaceful occupation before bed.
As most people know we home educate all but the oldest, and my 9yr old’s online social life is astonishing – most days it sounds like there’s a party of 8-10yr olds in her room, all in a group Skype chat as they play Minecraft online together.
Naturally she’s a digital native – and what she doesn’t know, she Googles and learns. She absorbs courses and online tuition videos, and when I asked if she might be interested in learning some proper mod coding she lit up with excitement.
So when Code Kingdoms got in touch to see if I was interested in their coding system, I was instantly keen to know more. They’ve built an online learning platform for kids between 8 – 14, teaching them how to code using Minecraft. They’ve been involved with the BBC’s micro:bit project since late 2014 and their code editor is part of the project.
Interestingly, the UK currently has a huge need for people with skills in computing, with shortages set to grow across sectors in an increasing number of different roles and professions. This shortage is especially prevalent in women, who make up less than 25% of the UK tech workforce.
And until schools can catch up with the pace technology is moving (which seems unlikely in our cumbersome system), kids and their parents need to take a more active role in preparing for a digital future; whether that’s through after-school clubs, one of the technology camps that seem to be springing up all over, or through online tools like Code Kingdom’s own CK 4 Modding.
So I set the girl to work – I didn’t offer to help (I know pretty much zero about coding java), and she didn’t want me to watch. The Code Kingdom’s site is entirely safe, with private servers to keep kids protected whilst they test and try out the mods they’re creating. So I just left her to it.
The thing is, kids don’t learn well when presented with a bunch of facts, do they? Sure, we could have got a coding manual and worked through it together.
But with Code Kingdoms, Bear had coded her first mod within minutes and was gleefully playing with her bow & arrow that continuously fired arrows. The video courses are clear and engaging, and she had no problems with following every step.
What I loved most of all was that she didn’t stop there – she immediately wondered if she could make it fire flowers. Or cows. Her curiosity was sparked as she suddenly realised that her options had just opened up, and she started playing with the code, correcting herself when she got something wrong and giggling inanely at the results she created.
The first task was simple, and once she’d done a couple of the ‘Minute Mods’ she had the confidence to move on to some of the more advanced tasks. The learning progression of the projects are designed by experienced Computing teachers, and they follow a prescribed curriculum. In Code Kingdoms, learning is the currency for progression so the more they’re doing, the more they’re learning!
Each project has a brilliant video which takes your child step-by-step through the mod coding steps – and each one is based within the Minecraft environment they know and love, and provides instance results they can see and explore.
There’s built in error checking, and professional developers man their online support 7 days a week to help out if anyone gets stuck.
And before you think that it’s just ‘playing in Minecraft’, this is the first steps in learning with real code. Young coders are often taught ‘pseudo-code’, which they can master very quickly, but it doesn’t prepare them for the jump to a real programming language and text-based code.
Just being exposed to code isn’t going to make them an expert, of course, but early familiarisation of real concepts can’t fail to help the transition to real code – and it definitely fosters a passion and confidence in their own ability.