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'Minecraft Modding for Kids' teaches computer programming while you play Minecraft

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San Diego, Calif., July 13, 2015 -- Does your child spend hours playing Minecraft every day? Now there’s a book and software package that can help them learn computer programming while they’re doing it.

“Minecraft Modding for Kids,” part of the For Dummies series, is co-authored by three Ph.Ds. at the University of California, San Diego, and is being released July 13, 2015. “The book teaches many of the concepts taught in introductory computer science classes,” said Sarah Guthals, now a postdoctoral researcher in computer science at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego and lead author.

“Writing this book was exciting, then intimidating, then exciting again,” said Guthals, who wrestled with page limits and style while she wrote the book over the course of eight months. “You want it to be educational, but you also want it to be fun.”

She wrote “Minecraft Modding for Kids” with computer science Ph.D. Stephen Foster and biochemistry Ph.D. Lindsey Handley, both from UC San Diego. In 2013, the trio co-founded ThoughtSTEM, a company dedicated to teaching students in elementary, middle and high schools how to program. Last year, they launched LearnToMod, a software package that teaches users how to program while playing Minecraft.

Foster, Handley, and Guthals brainstormed about each of the book’s sections. Then, Guthals played around with the LearnToMod software to find the best way to teach a specific concept. Every few days, she went to a coffee shop and wrote for 8 to 10 hours.  

For Guthals, the book is a significant professional achievement. “I always wanted to be a writer,” she said. “Now I can point to this book and say: this is what I do.”

 “Minecraft Modding for Kids” comes with a free three-month subscription to LearnToMod. After an introductory chapter about creating modifications, or “mods,” within Minecraft, the majority of the book focuses on learning programming concepts by building games inside of Minecraft, including:

  • Spleef: build an arena paved with blocks, which disappear every time every time players step on them. The goal is not to fall. Players can add other challenges to the game, such as creatures blocking their way.
  • Monster Arena: build an arena full of monsters. Players need to avoid the monsters to get through to the other side of the arena, where they break a block. They are then sent back to the starting point of the game, which gets even harder.
  • Capture the flag: create magic wands that can emit exploding projectiles. Players then need to use the wands to destroy their adversaries’ flags, while protecting their own.

While they create the mini-games, players learn computer science concepts such as functions, variables, lists, parameters and libraries. The book also includes information about game design and game mechanics.

“Minecraft Modding for Kids” will be available online via Amazon and at local bookstores, including the one on the UC San Diego campus.

“I can’t wait,” said Guthals. “I already pre-ordered five of them.”

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Book co-authors (from left to right): Sarah Guthals, Stephen Foster and Lindsey Handley. The trio also co-founded ThoughtSTEM, a company dedicated to teaching children how to code. 




Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering

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