Introducing Kids to Java Programming Using Minecraft


Minecraft is a wildly popular game among elementary and middle schoolers. The game allows players to build constructions of textured cubes in a 3D world.

My son has been playing the game for about a year, lets say addicted to it. Last Fall he told me that the game is corrupted because the JAR file snapshot has messed up the configuration. And that right away rang a bell in me as a Java Evangelist at Oracle.

I learned from him that the game is written in Java, has a trial version that runs as an applet in the browser, and downloaded as a JAR file for desktop. The game is modular where the players travel through a world and chunks are loaded and unloaded to keep the memory footprint small. Something unique about the game is the ability to modify the game from what it was originally designed for. In Minecraft language, this is called as a "mod" - short for modifications. For example, a mod can add new characters to the game, change look-and-feel of the play field, or make it easy to build new structures.

The game has a server and a client component. This allows the game to be played in a single player mode where a player connects to a server using a client and plays the game. Alternatively multiple players, using different clients across platforms, can connect to a server and play with each other collaboratively. Its very common to have a server run with multiple mods. There are almost an infinite number of mods someone could do to make Minecraft a more amusing game to play. There is no official API to create these mods but there are several third-party vendors that provide that capability; Bukkit is one such API. The ability to write mods and alter the game play gives players more control over the game and gets them more excited.

My son expressed his desire to write a mod and so we started exploring further. Then onwards, he started teaching me Minecraft vocabulary and I taught him the Java programming concepts. Our discussions in the car, on the dinner table, during the breakfast preparation, and elsewhere changed to reflect that as well. He already played with Scratch and Greenfoot last Summer and that was extremely helpful during this learning curve. We set up a goal to build a mod during Christmas break. After understanding the basic concepts and building a few mods, we decided to share the knowledge with a broader set of Minecrafters. And that's where the concept of doing a Minecraft Workshop was born.

My son came up with a list of his minecraft buddies and we announced a date for the workshop. Everybody invited for the workshop confirmed their presence right away. I found out that both the invited kids and their parents were equally excited. One friend could not attend because of a prior commitment and was extremely disappointed. On the day of the workshop, some kids were eager to come even before the formal start of the workshop.

The workshop was attended by 10 kids with age ranging from 10-14 years. Most of the kids had no programming experience, let alone Java. However there was high Minecraft experience in the group with some kids playing for about 2 years and up to 2 hours every day. When given the topic of Minecraft, the small group would talk excitedly about different aspects of the game, constantly using hundreds of game-specific terms and phrases as if speaking a different language. My goal was to leverage their passion and introduce them to Java programming.


The challenge for me was to introduce programming to these kids using analogies from the daily life. Using a car, features, capabilities, types, and car dealers and correlating with class, properties, methods, instances, and packages seem to work. Fruits and different methods of peeling, eating, and planting was used to introduce the concept of Interface in Java. I asked, “What can you do with a watermelon?” the first answer was obvious, “you can eat it.” The second one was a little less so, “You can chuck in a trash can.” The response was greeted with scattered laughter. I used that to explain the concept of Exceptions in Java.

Short anecdotes and side-conversations kept the livelihood of the group going throughout the five hour programming session. There are almost an infinite number of mods someone could do to make Minecraft a more amusing game to play. But all these mods hold the same basic framework that we set up for any future work on making game-specific mods. By the end of the session, we had worked out an entire framework for making a mod. A Maven archetype to create a template Bukkit plugin allowed the attendees to avoid writing boilerplate code. A lower bar to get started and simplicity was the key for this audience. The mod built in the workshop added a new server-side command and printed a trivial message.

Although the goal of the workshop was to get an introduction on programming and make a Minecraft mod, I believe the attendees learned much more than that. I think the informal set up helped them discover that programming can be fun and useful to add to gaming experience. Programming is a vast field and we barely scratched the surface. But most importantly, the attendees had a good time and learned their first lesson of Java programming to start off an interest in it.


"Fun", "Easy", "Quick", "Awesome", "Short", and "Intuitive" described attendees' one word summary of building and running their first Hello World application using NetBeans.

All the instructions followed in the workshop, including a lot more pictures, are available at java4kids.java.net/minecraft-workshop.

For me, it was quite a humbling and learning experience. I've delivered multiple workshops all around the world but mostly to professional developers. I realized how the instructions need to be completely spelled out in order for the attendees of this age to make progress. Something as simple as "Hit Enter after entering the command", yes, that is required. Anyway I plan this to be the first of many more workshops aimed to introduce the world of Java programming to school students.

One of the lessons learned during the workshop was to simplify the installation experience. All the kids had JDK and NetBeans set up already, pretty straight forward. However I wonder why Maven insists on JAVA_HOME variable instead of figuring it out. I need to investigate how to seamlessly install JDK, NetBeans, and Maven in a platform independent way. This will allow to focus more on building the actual mod rather than the multi-step installations.



This workshop was not possible without mentoring support from Allen Dutra and other parents. A huge shout out to my family who helped validate and calibrate my strategy for the audience. My nephews feedback from the lab is incorporated into this blog. Thanks to Oracle for sponsoring the snacks!

Thank you @notch for using Java to build the game! You've provided a great platform for young kids to learn Java and truly enabled Make The Future Java ...

Comments:

Thanks Arun, great post. My son is a Minecraft addict, and I've been looking for a way to also get him hooked on programming. I think you've really hit on a great idea here.

Joe

Posted by Joe Sciallo on March 22, 2013 at 12:34 PM PDT #

Great blog post Arun! My little brother has been obsessed with Minecraft ever since I showed him it 2 years ago and he recently started to attempt a mod without my knowing and was very surprised when I asked him what he was doing in a Java IDE and to find out that I knew how it worked.

Am very tempted to try my hand at a workshop since I also have younger cousins who are very interested in Minecraft too, thanks for the slides!

I hope this is yet another avenue for getting children interested in programming!

Posted by guest on March 22, 2013 at 02:15 PM PDT #

Indeed game programming teaches you a lot. It's something one should do, when starting programming, by combining, physics, maths with programming concepts like arrays, linked list, Game programming provides entertaining, yet challenging exercise.

Posted by guest on March 24, 2013 at 08:52 PM PDT #

This is the way my son(s) are starting to learn how to develop, small plugins, packaging.. Really a great thing to do

Posted by Tugdual Grall on March 25, 2013 at 05:39 AM PDT #

The new generation, in general, is much more technical than our generation (Generation X). When talking to my cousins (who are less than 12), I noticed that they now use technical terms. Such as: the program crashed, there is a bug somewhere in this system, it is not stable, infinite loop, cookies!

These terms are exclusively used by programmers in my generation, which is very interesting. The technology is changing everyone - and I think that most - if not all - of the new newest generations will be able to write some code. I think it's time to make coding mandatory in schools!

Posted by Fadi El-Eter (itoctopus) on March 25, 2013 at 07:08 AM PDT #

I like minecraft

Posted by guest on March 26, 2013 at 12:46 PM PDT #

Fantastic Idea ! I plan to do exactly the same for my kids and the friends of my kids, Aron can I re-use your material?

Posted by Marc Teufel on April 01, 2013 at 12:43 AM PDT #

Marc,

Feel free to reuse the material with credits.

Posted by Arun Gupta on April 02, 2013 at 10:05 AM PDT #

Very cool! My son is 8 and love Minecraft. I'm thinking of doing something similar. How old is your son?

Posted by Tony Svedlund on April 03, 2013 at 01:32 PM PDT #

Tony,

My son is 10-years old.

Posted by Arun Gupta on April 03, 2013 at 01:33 PM PDT #

★★★★★★★★
SWEET! I just got a free Minecraft card code at http://minecraftget.com/
★★★★★★★★

Posted by guest on April 10, 2013 at 01:12 PM PDT #

Can you say "Minecraft Summer Camp?". As the non-programmer dad of a 10 year old who'd like to learn Java so he can 'mod' this gives me great hope and encouragement. Anyone out there in Marin County?

Posted by guest on April 14, 2013 at 12:53 AM PDT #

Hi Arun! I have planned to do something similar for a while,and find your workshop as a great start.Is it possible that I reuse it, translate it into Norwegian, and upload the l10n version of it to java4kids.java.net so anyone else from Norway can use it as well?

Posted by Viggo on April 18, 2013 at 11:33 PM PDT #

Thanks Arun, This is an awesome idea. Are you planning more workshops? If so, when and where. My kids are very interested in attending this.

Posted by guest on April 19, 2013 at 10:53 AM PDT #

weve been looking for just this for our 9 and 10 year old sons!
sadly, my wife and i have no programming skills.....
we'd drive just about anywhere in the bay area to enroll our kids in a
workshop like this!
please let us know of any such events!

Posted by ross on April 21, 2013 at 12:26 PM PDT #

Viggo,

Please go ahead with the translation and upload to java4ids.java.net.

Ross,

Do you want to work out logistics of such a workshop in the south bay ? I'll be happy to deliver it :)

Posted by guest on April 21, 2013 at 08:12 PM PDT #

Perfect. I'll look at your notes for building a mod. My background is also in Java and I've got a bunch of 12 year old boys here who are mad about Minecraft.

Thanks.

Posted by Guy Roberts on May 06, 2013 at 06:36 AM PDT #

Neat! I'm going to have to try this with my childrens.

Posted by sumdumguy on May 07, 2013 at 12:51 PM PDT #

awesome idea!!!

Posted by guest on May 21, 2013 at 02:56 PM PDT #

I love minecraft so much

Posted by guest 123 on June 01, 2013 at 11:22 AM PDT #

minecraft is a hero

Posted by guest 123 on June 01, 2013 at 11:23 AM PDT #

Arun,

Nice post, I will digg that with my nephew soon :D he is totally crazy about this squared game :D

Posted by Edgar Silva on June 04, 2013 at 07:44 AM PDT #

This seems like the perfect approach to get my 10-year-old brother and his friends interested in programming, something I believe they would recieve great benefit from both in school and in future life. I'm already really impressed with their skills in Minecraft, and I think they would appreciate modding the game.

Viggo: I'm Norwegian too, and would love to have a look at your translation! I'm not much of a programmer, so any help is greatly appreciated :D

Posted by Kristoffer on June 06, 2013 at 08:21 AM PDT #

As a teacher I am looking to teach programming with the wider focus of programming in the UK curriculum. Found this article by pure chance and look forward to getting stuck in and producing some interesting lessons based around the concepts.

Would it be possible to make use of your workshop and develop it form some computer Science lessons?

Posted by Steve Jenkinson on June 07, 2013 at 12:37 AM PDT #

Is there a workshop planned near Cambridge in 2013 as my nephew would be interested.

Posted by guest on June 11, 2013 at 05:21 AM PDT #

Hi Arun,
We live in Boston but travel to my sis' in Pt.Reyes often. If you do a workshop, pls let me know! I will also try to do the tutorial myself, but haven't programmed for a while!

Posted by guest on June 13, 2013 at 09:23 AM PDT #

Wow! Me being a 12 year old addict of Minecraft, I am very exited to hear the news. I have been looking for a way to learn java without prior knowledge of programing for a very long time.

Posted by aRandomPersonOnTheInternet on June 14, 2013 at 11:12 AM PDT #

Steve, Absolutely, please feel free to use it for computer science lessons.

I'm based in San Francisco Bay Area and no workshops are planned near Cambridge at this time.

Posted by Arun Gupta on June 16, 2013 at 03:12 AM PDT #

Great.If you are thinking to learn java online then i want to suggest you a place where you can join free online java course. It is totally free. The course is spread over 128 lectures in 21 sections with practice problems in sections intended to enhance your practical knowledge of concepts learnt throughout the section.

Posted by guest on June 17, 2013 at 04:41 AM PDT #

Hi Arun,
I just stumbled across your blog and haven't yet had a chance to review any of the linked information. However, I wanted to quickly say that it's great to hear what you've done with these childrens enthusiasm for playing this simple yet compelling application.
I say simple because that's what most adults say when they see the graphics; "the graphics are so pixelated, like games in the 80's. I could make something better than that. I don't get it." Which I reply "no..you don't get it". And that's just it, most parents are missing the point. This game has a short learning curve to allow children, of almost any age, to master its functionality. Yet, because of its sandlot design, it provides rich almost endless capabilities. The kids don't give a hoot about the pixelated graphics. It's about content, functionality and ability to create.
I also, intentionally, said application as apposed to game because it can be more about building content than playing a game. The creative content these children come up with is absolutely incredible; towers, castles, ships, caves, you name it, they've probably built it as well as blown it up (which can be fun too ;-).
Minecraft is to our children what sandlot and Legos were to us. Let's harness this for good!!
I would like to do something similar here. My son and daughter love creating and collaborating online with Minecraft. They're teaching themselves how to install mods and packages as well as navigate Linux (our preferred gaming platform for the simple sake that it's free and open source). I, too, would like to see them learn how to program these mods and texture packages. When time permits, I plan to read the link data for ideas for directing them toward learning to program. Any encouragement or ideas are greatly appreciated!

Posted by Paul Sullivan on June 20, 2013 at 12:28 PM PDT #

I gave the wrong email with my yesterday comment. Please use PSullivan40@gmail.com.

Posted by Paul Sullivan on June 21, 2013 at 10:59 AM PDT #

I would love to sign my son up for the next workshop. He loves Minecraft and Scratch. Great idea!

Posted by guest on June 24, 2013 at 01:37 PM PDT #

My kids recently discovered minecraft and my 9 year old is a real addict! Not sure yet if I'm glad or sad about that. :-) This morning he told me set up a minecraft server, but I admit my eyes glaze over when they starting talking minecraft.

I'm a java programmer, too (eclipse-oriented). Clearly there is a demand for minecraft/java workshops for kids! I'm going to look through the content in your java4kids link. Maybe I could come up with something similar for my kids and their schools.

Two thumbs up to your post!

Posted by tdr on June 25, 2013 at 09:15 AM PDT #

★★★★★★★★
SWEET! I just got a free Minecraft card code at http://minecraftget.com/
★★★★★★★★

Posted by guest on June 25, 2013 at 09:52 AM PDT #

This is an amazing idea for a camp! My son would freak :) If you are in the Pt Reyes or Marin County area of California, my son is 10 and we'd sign him up in an instant. Please let me know, and thank you so much!!

Posted by guest on June 28, 2013 at 08:10 AM PDT #

This is a marvelous post on a true world application! If only we were taught in this intuitive way ... Great Work. Keep it up!!

Posted by Manish Vohal on July 01, 2013 at 11:40 AM PDT #

Thanks! As a former software engineer, I have been trying to figure out what language and how to transfer some knowledge to our local homeschoolers.
I think this is it! Thanks! There seems to be enough detail in the lessons that I won't have to reinvent the wheel.

Posted by lucy on July 16, 2013 at 05:57 PM PDT #

Thanks for all the encouraging comments so far!

My son has built a set of tutorials to show how to create Minecraft mods. They are available at:

https://java4kids.java.net/minecraft-workshop/aug2013/readme.html

More will be added in the next few days.

The first few videos are about the game play. I recommend subscribing to the channel and get notifications as the videos are added.

Posted by Arun Gupta on July 17, 2013 at 12:05 PM PDT #

Need confirmation of registration for August 1 workshop JAVA4Kids

Posted by guest on July 18, 2013 at 12:58 PM PDT #

Hi Arun,

I am planning to have a similar mini workshop with my son this saturday and I could not find someone or an instructor that can do it. Help... Any recommendations? Please email me back/

Angela

Posted by Angela Montesa on July 18, 2013 at 03:18 PM PDT #

Time to upgrade my Minecraft to premium freeminecraftgiftcodes{dot}net :D

Posted by guest on July 31, 2013 at 07:52 AM PDT #

Arun:
Any chance you would do one more of these this summer? My 12 yr old son and 10yr old would love to do it. We are in the bay area! As a former Sun and Oracle MySQL er I know how tough it is to do this and work full time. You should charge a fee to offset your time and maybe stick in your kids college fund!!! Let me know if you are planning anything. I would make a voluntary contribution to the arum Gupta college fund!

Cheerio
Vic Cloutier

Posted by guest on August 06, 2013 at 09:23 PM PDT #

SWEET! I just got a free Minecraft card code at http://minecraftget.com/
★★★★★★★★

Posted by guest on August 08, 2013 at 08:26 PM PDT #

Vic,

Do you want to organize something like this in the Bay Area ? My son and I will be happy to deliver it :)

Posted by Arun Gupta on August 13, 2013 at 10:17 AM PDT #

Hi Arun,
Pls let us know when the next workshop/classes for "Introducing Kids to Java Programming Using Minecraft" is.
My son is 9, crazy about Minecraft and would love to learn more about programming. Any idea where to go to sign in?
My email is lorenapaliska@gmail.com. Thank you so much for all the info!

Posted by guest on August 18, 2013 at 04:51 AM PDT #

Please let me know of future minecraft camps - My son is 13 and would love to attend. He is very competent in minecraft and has started making you tube videos to demonstrate building techniques and now wants to create a mod. Thanks! Mama doesn't know Java

Posted by guest on August 20, 2013 at 11:23 AM PDT #

Nice, thanks for sharing!

Posted by Petro on August 25, 2013 at 03:50 AM PDT #

I know this is a long shot, but I live in Berlin Germany, and am looking for a contact here that can do a minecraft Java class for kids in Berlin, in English? My son would love to attend one. Any Oracle offices here in Berlin?
Best,
Laura Pedretti

Posted by guest on August 28, 2013 at 04:48 AM PDT #

Arun, thanks for sharing your story. I'm a Java developer and my 9 year old son loves to play Minecraft and wants to build his own mods. So we've been exploring how to program additional features (mods). Your workshop is perfect!

Posted by Curt Kramer on August 31, 2013 at 05:25 AM PDT #

My children lately found minecraft and my 9 season old is a actual addict! Not sure yet if I'm grateful or sad about that. :-) Today he informed me set up a minecraft server, but I confess my sight glaze over when they beginning discussing minecraft.

Posted by guest on September 03, 2013 at 12:07 AM PDT #

Anup, do you want to meet in the next week and I can come to Redwood Shores and see about planning a Minecraft camp after Java One. Use my work email at Dell.
vic

Posted by Vic Cloutier on September 17, 2013 at 02:31 PM PDT #

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Arun Gupta is a technology enthusiast, a passionate runner, author, and a community guy who works for Oracle Corp.


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