Why Minecraft is the newest and coolest teaching tool in school.

LA Makerspace teaches kids to code, problem-solve, and build ... using Minecraft.

Have you ever heard of Minecraft?

If you haven't, don't worry — I had no clue what it was either until my 14-year-old brother showed it to me. It's a game that has become really popular in the past few years, and it looks kind of like Legos coming to life combined with The Sims.

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GIF via Daily Motion.


In the game, you can build worlds, craft shelters, create tools, and go on missions. It's kind of old school but in a refreshing way. People love Minecraft for the same reason they loved The Sims: There aren't many rules, and you don't have to worry that someone hiding around the next corner might kill you and steal your ammo (... usually).

Minecraft might seem like just a sweet video game. But now it's being used as a teaching tool for kids, too.

Remember when "educational games" involved watching your pixelated family and livestock perish repeatedly on the Oregon Trail? Yeah, things have gotten a lot more sophisticated since then.

Los Angeles Makerspace, a nonprofit dedicated to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math), just proposed a camp that will teach underprivileged kids to code, problem-solve, and build ... using Minecraft.

They're partnering with Connected Camps, an organization that offers game-based coding camps, to make it happen.

"These workshops move students beyond coding syntax and get them learning how [to] code robust, unique programs to solve complex problems," Tara Tiger Brown from LA Makerspace told Boing Boing.

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GIF via Connected Camps/YouTube.

That's right: Kids are learning to code programs and solving complex problems in elementary school. Is anyone else wishing they'd actually made progress on their New Year's resolution to complete Codecademy?

LA Makerspace wants young coders to rediscover the fun and adventure in learning, so they're using games that kids already love.

It's part of a bigger trend you've probably noticed lately: "gamification," which occurs when things like work, school, and exercise are turned into games. That's why some businesses are starting video game competitions. It's why my family does a weekly Fitbit challenge. And it's also behind some schools' decisions to put iPads and game apps in classrooms.

It's important to bring the fun back into learning because much of that gets lost in schools that are required to focus largely on standardized testing.

Anyway, back to the Minecraft coding camps.

To sweeten the deal even further, the organizers plan to bring high school and college students in as mentors for the kids, fighting back against youth unemployment in L.A.

The mentorship part of the program is important; studies have shown that having an older mentor they can trust could help keep kids out of trouble and in school.

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Image via LA Makerspace flickr.

The opportunity to learn how to code as a kid could be life-changing, too.

According to Code.org, there will be 1.4 million open computer science jobs by 2020, but less than 1% of accelerated high school students are enrolled in computer science.

Students of color make up less than one-tenth of that 1% of students, so it's extra important for LA Makerspace and Connected Camps to launch this camp in underserved communities. Right now, about a quarter of their existing workshops are offered in places where half the families live below the poverty line.

Programs that teach underprivileged kids how to code might even be a great way to fix the diversity problem in tech.

This new project isn't a done deal yet, though. It's currently in the running for a competition to win $100,000, and they've made it to the top 10. They'll find out if they win by early December.

Check out the video about the program:

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

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Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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