Chemistry Lessons Come to ‘Minecraft’. From the Minecraft: Education Edition product blog:

We are thrilled to bring chemistry into Minecraft with a new update for Minecraft: Education Edition. With input from chemistry teachers, students and Minecraft Global Mentors, the Chemistry Update offers educators and learners a fun, accessible way to explore chemistry within the immersive world of Minecraft. […]

Science education is driven by hands-on learning, but only half of fourth graders in the U.S. do hands-on science once a week. In low income schools, the numbers are even lower, as students have less access to labs and equipment. Chemistry in Minecraft allows teachers to introduce chemistry concepts without the costs of lab equipment in the engaging Minecraft world that will inspire more girls and boys to explore the subject.

I looked through the Chemistry Update documentation and was struck by how naturally a chemistry focus will fit into the build-everything-from-scratch, blocky world. It makes perfect sense. Additionally, knowing a few scientists, I can vouch for how expensive lab equipment is. Doing lightweight chemistry in Minecraft will sacrifice the safety and hands-on learning a lab provides, but if it affords more kids an opportunity to explore the sciences, there’ll be plenty of time for the lab later.

Sidestepping the fun of creating Helium so I lift pixelated farm animals into the sky with balloons, I’m fascinated with and curious how far Microsoft can bring Minecraft into the classroom and what, if any, advantage it will bring them. Between Apple with iPads, Google with Chromebooks, and (recently) Microsoft with cheap and rugged Windows 10 laptops, three of the largest technology companies are waging a war for the next generation of users, and it starts in the classroom. So far, it seems Google has the early advantage, having been quick to the scene with easy-to-manage, cloud-based, and, importantly, cheap hardware.1

Microsoft can’t (yet, ever?) out-integrate the Chromebook/G Suite combination, but they can position Minecraft — which, shocker, doesn’t run on Chromebooks — as a much-adored, interactive classroom necessity. Now that Microsoft has a line of cheap hardware options, it might actually be a route some schools are willing to try.

It remains to be seen whether Minecraft will or can be the reason any school chooses one vendor over another, but it’s certainly off to a strong start. Last November, Microsoft announced that — one year after release — Minecraft: Education Edition had hit two million licensed users across 115 countries. Meanwhile, Minecraft (the standard edition), recently sold over 120 million copies, with 55 million monthly players. Minecraft is one of the most popular video games in the world.2

Give it a few more years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we look back at Microsoft’s 2014, $2.5 billion acquisition of Mojang, Minecraft’s parent company, as one of the better industry investments of the past decade. This Chemistry Update will certainly strengthen the Education Edition offering, but Minecraft’s true strength lies in its brand and LEGO-like universal appeal. I got into Macs because I loved Mac software.3 I could see Minecraft playing a similar role for Microsoft — laying a foundation of goodwill that leads new consumers right to Windows, the Xbox, and whatever else comes next.

  1. And sure, Chrome OS is a garbage fire, but it’s tightly integrated with Google’s host of online G Suite (Docs, Gmail, Classroom), which many institutions can get for free; it’s a compelling package. [return]
  2. Anecdotally, I’ve not found a child who (a) didn’t know what Minecraft was or (b) didn’t immediately launch into an explanation of how they strategically organized their wheat fields for maximum yield. Now, go tell those same kids that their school is considering bringing Minecraft into the classroom. They’ll go nuts. [return]
  3. As of today, you can buy Minecraft on PlayStation and MacOS. However, both of these systems missed out on last year’s Better Together update, which brought cross-play to Xbox, mobile, Windows 10, and VR. [return]

Monday, 22 January 2018