Friday Mar 22, 2013

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 ...

Tuesday Jul 10, 2007

FREE Web Services Training - 3rd session

Sang Shin is starting the 3rd session of  free "Web Services and SOA programming" from August 24th. There is a heavy emphasis on:

  • New Java APIs for Web Services (JAX-WS, JAXB, REST)
  • WSIT (Project Tango)
  • SOA Technologies (BPEL, JBI, Open ESB)
  • GlassFish (Java EE 5, JBI runtime, Service Engines)

For registration and course related information, please go to the websites below:

http://www.javapassion.com/webservices/ (Course home site)
http://www.javapassion.com/webservices/#Topics (Topics)
http://www.javapassion.com/ajaxcodecamp/coursefaq.html (FAQ)
http://groups.google.com/group/webservicesprogramming?hl=en (Class Forum)

To register, send a blank email to webservicesprogramming-subscribe-AT-googlegroups-DOT-com. Even though the course is offered free but it requires time commitment.

Technorati: Webservices Programming GlassFish SOA NetBeans presos

Monday Jan 08, 2007

FREE Ajax Codecamp - 2nd session

Sang Shin is starting the second session of "AJAX Programming (with Passion!)" from Feb 12th, 2007.

This FREE online course is for anyone who wants to learn Ajax for the first time or increase their knowledge on Ajax. In this course, students learn basic concept and technologies of Ajax such as JavaScript, CSS, and DOM as well as how to use various Ajax frameworks and toolkits such as Dojo toolkit, jMaki, Direct Web Remoting (DWR), Google Web Toolkit (GWT), and Ajax-enabled JavaServer Faces (JSF) components, DynaFaces, ZK framework, etc.

Each topic is accompanied by a hands-on lab in which NetBeans ready projects are provided so that attendees can readily build and run various Ajax applications with minimum effort.

For registration and other course related information, please go to the websites below.

http://www.javapassion.com/ajaxcodecamp (Course home site)
http://www.javapassion.com/ajaxcodecamp/#Topics (Topics)
http://www.javapassion.com/ajaxcodecamp/#registration (Registration)
http://www.javapassion.com/ajaxcodecamp/coursefaq.html (FAQ)
http://www.javapassion.com/ajaxcodecamp/graduates.html (Graduates)

Technorati: Ajax codecamp Dojo Google Web Toolkit Java Server Faces Programming Web2.0 Web 2.0 Web20 NetBeans presos

Friday Jul 14, 2006

Free AJAX Codecamp

Sang Shin is starting a FREE 10-week "AJAX Programming" online course from August 4th, 2006. This course is for anyone who wants to learn AJAX for the first time or increase their knowledge on AJAX.  In this 10-week course, students learn basic concept of AJAX as well as how to use various AJAX frameworks and toolkits such as Dojo toolkit, jMaki, Google Web Toolkit, and AJAX-fied JavaServer Faces (JSF) components.

More details are available here.

The only thing you have to do in order to register for the course is sending an blank email to ajaxworkshop-subscribe-AT-yahoogroups-DOT-com.

Technorati: ajax codecamp Dojo Google Web Toolkit Java Server Faces Programming

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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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