Mining mad coding skills from Minecraft

mindcraftLeslie Foster explains how the wildly popular video game can teach your kids all about computer science and programming.

If you have a tween or teen in your house, you more than likely hear a lot about Minecraft — possibly more than you ever wanted to hear about a video game.

You may, however, want to be all ears when ThoughtSTEM, a U.S. computer science education company, launches LearnToMod in January.

It’s a software that teaches code by focusing on something your child already loves — you guessed it  Minecraft. The creators hope they can leverage children’s love of Minecraft to teach valuable programming skills.

On its own, Minecraft is an immersive game that lets you create your own world of mountains, castles, volcanoes and more; a little like Lego in a virtual space.

This open-sandbox game (with a structure that allows kids to “play” in the world and choose to participate in the story at their own pace) has many features.

However, LearnToMod ( takes the game even further by allowing users to build modifications into the game, called “mods.” Mods are an important part of Minecraft’s success, making the game truly limitless.

The software, targeted at kids ages eight to 15, includes hundreds of lessons, tutorials, and puzzles. Through progressive lessons and achievements, children learn how to code hundreds of different mods.

They can start with something simple, programming a specific event like a lightning strike.  Once they become more proficient, they can program much more complex mods, like a game of “capture the flag”, or create a special bow that shoots “portal” arrows (your child will think this is cool, even if you have no idea what it means.)

“Kids are already spending ridiculous amounts of hours on Minecraft, so we thought this would be a good way to help them learn skills,” ThoughtSTEM co-founder Stephen Foster said in an interview with Wired magazine.

Kids start with Google’s Blockly programming interface, where they click and drag virtual blocks to create code instead of typing it. This is the first step in learning many of the basic programming concepts such as loops and Boolean logic.

As they progress, they will begin to learn Javascript, the programming language of the web. The fundamentals of programming are similar across platforms, so skills developed in LearnToMod are transferable to other types of programming, like mobile app development.

For an additional fee, kids of any age can enrol in a special Learn ToMod online course and earn college credit at the University of California in San Diego. This is likely to be a powerful motivator for some kids.

Other companies use Minecraft for educational purposes as well.

TeacherGaming sells a custom built version called MinecraftEDU ( that helps educators create virtual classrooms to teach various subjects like history, math, and science.

And instead of using Minecraft as a virtual classroom, ThoughtSTEM built its own web-based interface. Once you have “written” code in LearnToMod, the application connects to your Minecraft account to make the mods available in your game.

So if you have a Minecraft nut in your family, you may want to consider LearnToMod as a holiday gift. In a decade from now, your child may be the creator of the next big hit.