Anyone who has a child that loves Minecraft has experienced first-hand the depths of knowledge children can amass regarding game-play, strategy, and terminology. Because Minecraft is a computer game that allows players to build their own worlds, there is virtually no limit as to what can be created.
Waxhaw Kid Coders recognized the popularity of the platform by offering Minecraft Mod Camps over the summer. Minecraft Mod Camps have been so popular that founder Ken Adelglass chose to offer an additional session in mid-August, and he is already planning Minecraft themed weekend events as well as birthday parties for the fall.
“One of the most interesting phenomena is probably Minecraft,” Ken said. “The kids just love it.”
“I’m always trying to keep my finger on the pulse of what kids are looking for. I kept hearing, ‘Minecraft mods, Minecraft mods,’ so this year our big thing was Minecraft.”
Minecraft had not previously been a part of Kid Coder’s offering because Minecraft mods are programmed using Java. Ken felt it would be too difficult.
“It’s a fairly sophisticated language for young kids to learn,” he said.
But because of the popularity, Ken wanted to see if there was anything out there that made Java a little more palatable for kids to learn. That’s when he found Code Kingdoms. Code Kingdoms is a program that uses a drag-and-drop code editor to allow students to mod their personal Minecraft servers.
According to the Code Kingdoms website, “Able users can build ‘mods’ (short for modifications) that change the way the game behaves and responds. The more code you learn, the more creative freedom you have to build what you want inside the game.”
The tools found in Code Kingdoms allowed Ken to offer Minecraft Mod workshops at a beginner’s level for ages as young as eight. He began testing out the software with his interns and ran a test class. The software was such a hit with his testers that it instantly became a big part of the summer camp schedule.
In class, the kids got to code, test, and then play the game. This gave students the perfect blend of educational material, critical thinking, and fun.
The summer camps filled quickly. Ken explained that the group element has made Minecraft even more fun for the kids.
“What’s cool is that they get to be with other kids in the same room, and I think that’s what causes all the excitement,” Ken said. “Usually, they’re just sitting on their home computer doing it. Here they’re sitting in a group. They’re sharing ideas. They’re learning from each other. I think that’s what makes it a lot of fun.”
And internet safety is, of course, a concern.
“You also want to be careful where your kids go and who they interact with,” Ken said.”Here it’s safe. We moderate everything. We whitelist only our campers on our servers.”
The class is structured so that each child has their own server.
“When they enter the Code Kingdoms editor, their server lights up green, and they are ready to code and test,” Ken said. “It’s a whole coding environment where they can drag and drop coding blocks, and it’s Java code they see in the blocks. And they don’t have to type it; they can drag it out. So there’s less emphasis on syntax and more emphasis on critical thinking. What block comes next?”
New students are encouraged to learn the ropes. Their job is to start seeing the patterns and thinking about what they are doing.
“Our emphasis is to encourage students to think about what each block does,” Ken said. “Don’t just drag the blocks, think about it. I like to talk them through, and when they test, they can visually see the results of their code right inside their game.”
However, if students progress and get better at Java, there is a slide rule on the bottom of the editor that reveals the pure Java code and allows them to type code directly into the editor.
“A lot of kids struggle with typing,” Ken said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges we face as far as teaching younger kids to code. Kids are on different levels as far as typing. That’s why I have assistants.”
Ken’s assistants are usually local area high schoolers and college students that are gifted in coding and robotics. Rising Marvin Ridge High School senior Joe Hussey was one of the assistants running the Minecraft camps, as well as assistant Gabriel Ruelas and intern Jordan Krafft. Interacting with the “big kids” was one of the highlights of campers’ experience.
“I liked writing the code together and then testing it out on Joe’s server by playing a game with the code we had written,” said 10-year-old camper Keith Donahue.
Families that missed out on the summer camp excitement don’t have to worry. Minecraft modding will continue into the fall. Classes will be offered, as well as private groups for four or more students. And Minecraft Mod birthday parties can be scheduled to accommodate groups up to 12.
Of course, Minecraft is not the only thing Waxhaw Kid Coders offers. There are workshops on video game programming in MIT’s Scratch as well as Stencyl. Lego Mindstorms classes are for 10 to 14-year-olds, and Lego WeDo Robotics are popular with the seven to nine-year-old crowd. There are also digital electronics workshops that use Arduino and Raspberry Pi technology for students at all levels where kids can learn languages like C and Python. Kid Coders is also adding VEX Robotics workshops this fall for middle schoolers who aspire to be on high school robotics teams. Ken also does one-on-one lessons.
Waxhaw Kid Coders is located at 216 West North Main Street, #350, Waxhaw. Classes can be viewed and registered for on their website, www.waxhawkidcoders.com. Interested families can call 704-243-8801.