I recently completed a Tech Week student camp at the YMCA in Monroe, WA. Tech Week is a week long technology centered camp that introduces middle school students to different technologies through activities and field trips.
Monroe is a satellite city of Bellevue, and I would class it as just outside the technology bubble of Microsoft’s influence in Redmond and Bellevue (Both slightly over a half-hour commute away). Most of the schools in the area are just introducing a little bit of coding, with Monroe High School starting AP Computer Programming during the 2016-17 school year. This is probably the reason that the students, for the most part, had never done any coding except a few who had tried hour of code puzzles.
The YMCA camp director and I planned to have the students spend a bit over two hours a day splitting their time between ITCH (a classroom environment for Scratch) and Minecraft through LearnToMod. (Full disclosure here as I am also the creator of ITCH). There were significant differences between what each program taught and how the students engaged and learned within each system.
Starting with ITCH, the students learned the simple skills of movement, actions, and animations. Students were able to log in and start learning within five minutes of starting their computers. They quickly picked up on what the blocks would do, and several of the students created extensions such as multiple game levels on their projects by the second day. They were not afraid to experiment and learn as they could easily see the cause and effect of their code creations.
Next we worked on Minecraft and modding. The students were super excited and engaged to get started. There was an initial startup time-investment when using the system. The students had to find the specific version of Minecraft, wait for the LearnToMod environment to start their personal servers and connect in. This used at least 30 minutes of the initial class time to get everyone going. This is only an issue if you have limited class time, or are planning on a small number of classes.
Coding with Minecraft modding has its benefits. Students were definitely excited to use Minecraft, so the kids were engaged. However, there are some issue with keeping the students on task because they can easily decide to play Minecraft.
Most significantly, when using ITCH the students experimented and learned to create from their imaginations, and, in contrast, when modding they followed along directly with the linear coding directions. When modding Minecraft the environment and code are dramatically more complex. Because of this, students need an exponential number of hours to learn the system and the modding library API’s to realize their own creations. This lead me to conclude that students learned more about code and how to reflect their own imagined ideas with ITCH with the time we had.
Click here to learn more about ITCH.