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Teaching with Minecraft

As many of you know, we use Minecraft as a way to teach kids how to code. Kids love Minecraft mods, and get super excited about making their own, which makes it just a bit easier for us to convince them to try writing some code, even if it takes some extra effort on their part. They also enjoy playing with ComputerCraft, which allows them to program in-game “turtles,” using simple commands. We haven’t taught any Java modding, yet, because most of our kids are just not ready for it, but when they are, I suspect they will love the control they have over the game.

Did you know we also use Minecraft to teach other things? We started a weekly Minecraft Club a few months ago, and while the kids think it’s all about playing Minecraft, we actually sneak a bit of learning in there.

Famous Landmarks

For the first four weeks of Minecraft Club, we explored famous landmarks. I made a series of Google Slides for each week, and kept the slideshow up on the projector, so we could reference some facts about each landmark as we explored. For most of our exploration, we use a private Minecraft server, available only to kids registered for our club. We have the server hosted with MinecraftServer.net. I added custom maps to the server each week. We also live streamed the club, as we had some kids that joined us remotely. Some of the video didn’t work properly, but you’ll get the audio for all sessions, and the screencast after the first two.

Week One

We played in a map that contained the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We talked a little bit about each landmark, and the kids had a chance to actually walk through them. The map we used contained all seven wonders, with a bit of artistic license, but we showed “real” pictures of the wonders based on the actual and/or historic renderings, in the slideshow.

Exploring the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

At the end of the session, the kids built their own Eighth Wonder(s) of the Ancient World. We had some amazing builds, including a very large staircase, a statue of John Cena, one that looked a lot like the number “8.” Some of these kids are a bit literal.

Week Two

The second week we played a map of Washington, DC, which is close to home and very familiar for many of the kids. They were able to explore the Washington Monument, White House, US Capitol, and Lincoln Memorial, using a map that also included several other buildings in DC.

We talked a bit about the history of each of those famous buildings, and the kids were very excited to see that the Lincoln Memorial looks an awful lot like the Temple of Artemis! That led to a discussion about other buildings in our area that might look like other Wonders of the Ancient World, such as:

  • The Scottish Rite of Freemasonry House of the Temple, in Washington, DC, which looks like the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus 
  • The George Washington Masonic National Memorial, in Alexandria, VA, which looks like the Lighthouse of Alexandria

After much exploration, which included climbing on Abraham Lincoln’s statue, jumping from the top of the Washington Monument, and setting cows loose in the US Capitol, the kids were prompted to build memorials. They could choose to memorialize anyone, including fictional characters. We had several Five Nights and Freddy’s memorials, a giant Lego memorial, a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr memorial (you could actually go inside of his head), and a rather spectacular memorial to George Washington.

Week Three

Our third map was a sort of hodgepodge of modern landmarks from around the world. We included the Statue of Liberty, Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and Saint Basil’s Cathedral, in a map that I created in MCEdit, using several imported schematics for the structures, because I don’t have time to build all of that! A few of the kids had actually seen the Statue of Liberty in person, and they shared with the rest of the class how the Minecraft version was different. Many of the kids were very interested in the Eiffel Tower, and were surprised to learn that it was built by the man who also built the Statue of Liberty.

We gave the kids plenty of time to explore the landmarks, and then they were tasked with building their own, spectacular landmark. The only requirements this week were that the build was large enough to see from a distance, and that it was “spectacular.” Again, we got to see some very creative builds, and again, Five Nights at Freddy’s was included in many of the builds.

Week Four

For our last week, we spent some time exploring Natural Landmarks. We started off in a map that contained Niagra Falls, Mount Rushmore (part natural, part human-made), Devil’s Tower, and a very large tree that I claimed was the Wye Oak. As with Week Three, this was a custom map, made in MCEdit. I actually started off with a Niagra Falls map, and then imported a Mount Rushmore schematic that replaced the heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln with the heads of some famous Minecrafters, including the game’s creator, Notch. Then I just built the Devil’s Tower and Wye Oak myself.

That would be Niagra Falls!
That would be Niagra Falls!

Unfortunately, all of the running water in the Niagra Falls map managed to cause the server to lag, so we didn’t spend a ton of time exploring the map. We did get a look at everything, and compared the rather realistic Minecraft version of the falls to pictures of the real thing. Some of the kids had been to Niagra Falls, and were impressed, but they pointed out that Mount Rushmore and the other natural landmarks I included weren’t part of the real thing.

After we gave up on the laggy Niagra Falls map, we switched over to a new, creative world, and built another famous landmark: the Grand Canyon. This was a group build, and it required a lot of TNT. While the kids built that, I turned a nearby mountain into Mount Creepermore. The kids were impressed.

Habitats

We did a second 4-week session of the Minecraft Club, and our theme was habitats. In that session the kids explored the African savannah, a giant cave, a dessert, and a jungle. We talked about the types of plants and animals that we found in each of those habitats. Some of the maps we used were adventure maps, so the kids had quests to guide them. For example, we used the We are the Rangers on Minecraft Realms, to explore the African savannah.

Space

Our next 4-week session of Minecraft Club will explore space. We did this as a theme in one of our camps over the summer, and the kids had a blast! This session will include using a solar system map, to see how all of our planets, dward planets, moons, and asteroid belt are arranged around the sun. We will also use GalactiCraft, which is an amazing mod that allows kids to build their own rockets, which they can then fly to Earth’s moon, an asteroid, or Mars.

What’s Next?

We will continue to explore Minecraft, using maps that teach. The kids don’t feel like they’re in a “boring class,” but yet they leave with a lot of new knowledge, gained somewhat passively as part of the time they spend exploring Minecraft. I’ll keep scouring the web for fun, educational maps and mods. If you know of one we should consider, please comment, to let us know!

 

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We are Hiring, Again!

We are hiring for the following part-time positions:

  • Instructor – Instructors do classroom setup/breakdown, lead groups through Coder Kids Club course materials, help with creating and revising materials, and supervise the children in their classes. They will also attend special events, to help promote the Coder Kids Club. Right now we are particularly in need of staff who can help at events, on evenings and weekends! Previous experience working with kids is required. Some previous topic-specific experience is also very helpful, but it’s not necessary for that experience to be from a professional setting. In other words, hobbyists are welcome! Multiple positions are available.
  • Intern – We will internships available to AACPS students starting in September. Please contact your advisor for more information. If you are not a student in AACPS, please have your advisor contact us, so we can get set up for your school system. You must be able to receive credit for our internship program to participate!

All positions are part-time. Evening and weekend hours will be available throughout the year. Most daytime hours will be available during school breaks, including summer. Pay is commensurate with experience. A background check is required for all employees that are 18 or older.

Please use the form below to apply, and include a plain-text version of your resume.

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Make a Paper Torch

Want to make a Minecraft-inspired paper torch? We do this with some of our camps, and the resulting torches are not only pretty cool, they tend to last a while, thanks to the lamination. They are not indestructible, but can actually be used. My daughter made one, and then used it for camping!

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Materials & Equipment

Procedure

  1. Download our paper craft torch printable, and print on legal paper. Don’t use card stock if you plan to laminate!
  2. Use some scissors to cut out the torch. Try to stay pretty close to the edges.
  3. Laminate the cut-out, and cut again. Stay close to the edges, but don’t cut all the way to the paper, or the lamination might peel off later.
  4. Fold on the solid lines, and use double-sided tape to secure all except for the “top” end. The top end is the part that looks like flame, and not wood.  
  5. If you are not using the optional flash light, secure the top end with double-sided tape. Otherwise use some velcro on the outer flap of the top end, so it can be opened/closed to insert flashlight or battery-powered tea light.
  6. If you wish to use the flashlight, stuff the torch with some small pieces of crumpled paper, and place the flashlight inside. It should shine through the lighter top part, making it look like a real torch!

Important: If you don’t want to laminate, you should use card stock. Just be aware that if you use the flashlight, it might not illuminate very well.

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Lava Buckets

Let’s craft some lava! This activity lets you see:

  • How molecules are attracted to other molecules that are like them, such as oil to oil and water to water.
  • How density affects liquids.
  • What happens when you add water to citric acid and sodium bicarbonate.

Important: These instructions are for a small test tube (10 mL) of lava, which is the perfect size for when we do this at events. You can make a much more impressive “bucket” with a 1-liter bottle, and proportionally more water, oil, and food coloring.

Download a PDF copy of these instructions.

Materials

  • 1 plastic tube with lid
  • oil – Vegetable oil works well
  • water
  • food coloring
  • small piece of a fizzing tablet (citric acid + baking soda AKA Alka Seltzer)

Procedure

  1. Place your tube in a holder, or ask a friend to hold it for you. It’s much easier to add stuff to it when you don’t have to also hold it.
  2. Add about 1/4 teaspoon of water to the plastic tube.
  3. Now add oil to the tube until it’s nearly full . Does it mix with the water?
  4. Add 3-5 drops of food coloring to the tube. Where do those drops go?
  5. Now add the piece of fizzing tablet. What happens?
  6. When your lava bucket stops fizzing, screw the lid on, so it doesn’t spill. You can add more tablet pieces later, to make the lava “flow” again. Please don’t add the lid until the fizzing has mostly stopped, or it might pop off from the pressure!

PLEASE DON’T DRINK THE LAVA!!!

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Spawn Eggs (Bath Bombs)

Let’s craft some spawn eggs, or as your parents probably call them, bath bombs! This activity won’t show you anything, until you actually use the spawn eggs, but then you’ll get to see what happens when you add water to citric acid and sodium bicarbonate. The eggs will fizz with the release of carbon dioxide.

Download a PDF copy of these instructions.

Important: This only makes 2-4 eggs. We use such small amounts because we do this activity at events, and larger quantities would take longer and make more of a mess. If you want to make a larger batch, you can! Just use a large, glass bowl for mixing, instead of the small container with a lid. You will have to stir instead of shake.

Materials

  • Container with lid
  • Popsicle stick
  • Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
  • Citric acid – You can sometimes find this with canning supplies, but it’s usually cheaper to buy online
  • Witch hazel or water
  • Oil (optional, we use almond and/or sunflower)
  • Food coloring (optional, if you want color)
  • Epsom salt (optional)
  • Essential oil (optional, if you want it to smell good)

Procedure

  1. Add the following to the container, cover, and shake:
    1. 1/4 cup baking soda
    2. 2 tbsp citric acid
    3. 1-1/2 teaspoons Epsom salt (optional)
  2. (Optional) Add a squirt (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon) of oil and 1-3 drops of essential oil to the container, and shake some more.
  3. (Optional) Add 4-6 drops of food coloring, and shake again.
  4. Check color, scent, and consistency. If you see big chunks, break them with the popsicle stick, and shake some more.
  5. Now spray 1-3 times with water or witch hazel, mixing with the popsicle stick each time, until the mixture can be formed into a ball.
  6. Form into 2-4 “eggs” and allow to dry for 24 hours before using. If you have a spare mini-figure, place one inside of each egg when forming, so it will “hatch” when used. We sometimes use mini cupcake liners for the eggs. Another fun way to form the eggs is to place them in Easter eggs, which you then tape and/or rubber-band closed.
  7. Store in an enclosed container, in a cool, dry place. Drop one in the tub before you take a bath, and enjoy the bubbles. If you added a mini-figure, it will be revealed as the egg dissolves.

PLEASE DON’T EAT THE EGGS!!!