Does Minecraft have a place in the computer science curriculum?
I’m really a traditionalist at heart, but in my mind I also know where some common-sense is needed in school curriculum models. For example, if we are to teach students computer science – as recommended in the compulsory EBacc curriculum – on offer to all English students, coding is an essential part of this curriculum.
Minecraft has been used very successfully for many years across the curriculum by those teachers who are willing to engage within the curriculum from the context of the child. (Anon.)
Learn to Code:
How we teach coding is another matter? And there are many ways teachers can do this well/poorly.
“Equal treatment does not create equal opportunity.” (@doctob)
Every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science. This includes Minecraft is a teacher thinks it will benefit their students. Computer science helps nurture problem-solving skills, logic and creativity. Speaking with experience, as a former head of ICT (until 2008) and computing teacher, I look in awe at some of the applications, schemes of work and software available to teachers, schools and students today. Software that enables our children to learn how to code and use applications and devices to access the curriculum and beyond.
<< Rewind <<
I even remember coding in my computing lessons at school in 1988 – as a stand out feature of my schooling, and although very basic – learning AND, OR, NOT, IF commands from a textbook were never quite the same as learning coding on a PC using actual HTML (hypertext mark-up language – for those who don’t know) code to control output devices on the screen or with hardware.
Last summer, I took my family to Legoland and was privy to their Imagination Centre, to watch my 5-year-old learn code to control a vehicle; this made me realise how easy it is to ‘under-estimate a child’s ability to learn’ from something that may have appeared to be beyond their ability.
Learning to code has allowed me to create my website and create clever coding algorithms such as this. Teaching coding also allows teachers to develop the following knowledge:
- Problem Solving: Logic
- Web Development and design
- Programming e.g. Minecraft; Pokemon; Scratch;
- The Design Process e.g. Input, Control, Output
- The Internet e.g eSafety
Long before Minecraft and Pokemon hit the headlines and before Microsoft got their hands on Minecraft, there have been a variety of educational uses with software, applications and coding in the classroom. The over-arching theme, is that no matter how applications enable students to access the curriculum, this is about encouraging students to make things rather than curb their thirst for knowledge and skill.
If I taught Minecraft, I’d reference how coding is applicable to science experiments, collaboration activities, even literacy and any subject for the matter. Our lives are full of coding applications dating back decades, so much so, we wake up and walk into school/work/classroom and have already experienced a number of coding experiences we may be unaware of! The alarm clock; the automated bus-stop timings; traffic-light signals; automated street-lights and revolving doors who save us from ‘the effort of taking our hands out of our pockets’, or off the QWERTY keyboards on our mobile phones as we ‘code’ in the next song we to our playlists.
As a teacher, I’d be thankful that I had a pre-determined set of resources ready to go in my classroom. Workload has been cited by the DfE’s Workload Challenge, and many other organisations as the biggest reason for teacher retention and burn out. If one of the key headlines from the DfE’s Workload Reports, it is recommended teachers to use:
‘Off the shelf’ schemes of work with detailed lesson plans and adaptable materials. (DfE Workload Challenge recommendations)
Alongside Microsoft, the company (Code.org) has developed a new set of resources aimed at students as young as six, using Minecraft characters, and concepts, to teach children how to code. I’m not sure if I would want students using Minecraft to code as young as 6 years old, perhaps in key stage 2. However, is key stage 1 too early or am I limiting students capacity by my own limited expectations? (see example of my son coding above at Lego’s Imagination Centre).
Why learn to code?
“Why not?!” exclaims every computing teacher and a large swarm of parents.
I accept to a degree, that coding should be part of the key stage 2 curriculum and that teachers should engage with resources such as Minecraft if it connects students with learning at school. Coding IS making learning applicable to students today and Minecraft may just be another way to do it. Allow me to offer some positives and negatives:
- The high level of STEM occupations in the UK contribute to 2.8m jobs.
- IT professionals professionals are largest in terms of employment and are expected to have the greatest recruitment needs in future.
- Computer science drives innovation throughout the UK economy, yet it is marginalised in the national curriculum. (UKCES)
- STEM skills are critical to the most dynamic sectors in the economy in knowledge-based services and manufacturing.
- Girls achieved higher or equal A*- C GCSE combined grades compared to boys in all STEM subjects in 2012 (WISE).
- The gap is also closing in Computer Science where women represent 25% at postgraduate level compared to 16% at undergraduate level. (WISE, pg 17)
Click to expand
- The skill shortages is high, at around 40 per cent for IT professionals; the is the equivalent to 22% shortage of the UK labour market. (UKCES)
- The overall proportion of girls doing STEM subjects drops off at ‘A‘ level, with lower numbers of females compared to males being entered for all STEM (WISE).
- There remains an unemployment rate of 11.7% for computer sciences graduates 6 months after graduation (above the 8.6% average for STEM graduates) (DfE).
- The Shadbolt review of computer sciences degree accreditation and graduate employability revealed a lack of work experience amongst graduates (Shadbolt Review).
- Analysis of degree non-continuation rates has highlighted an additional issue that further limits an already small supply. The non-continuation rate for all subjects is 14.2% Computer Science is 18.1%. (WISE, pg 16)
- The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee called for immediate action to ensure enough young people study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. (Parliament)
Which occupations have a significant requirement for STEM knowledge and skills?
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Engineers have seen a move from working on-site to working remotely. This translates the physical world into a digital one, and allows engineers to operate in a virtual environment. For example, in the case of equipment on oil platforms, due to remote control an engineer is often not required to go to the site when a problem occurs, because it can be fixed remotely with less downtime. (UK Commission for Employment and Skills)
There are a minority of schools that do not teach computer science. Does yours?
… analysis reinforces the importance of developing coherent career pathways within STEM occupations. In order to address priority needs, employers should actively consider the extent to which higher apprenticeships, including degree apprenticeships, can provide a relevant development route into professional level roles requiring STEM knowledge and skills … (UKCES)
Calling ALL teachers:
The Minecraft-based tutorial introduces basic coding skills in a 2-D world that mimics the same environment players would find in the popular software game. At the time of writing, there has already been 93,338 Hour of Code events around the world, with 1,012 in the United Kingdom
So, what are Microsoft Education offering teachers?
Microsoft Imagine connects you with the tools and knowledge you need to create, code and develop your ideas. There are a series of learning plans that allow students and teachers to access the platform.