I was lucky enough to spend the day on Friday sitting in on a holiday course at Thinkspace. Twelve kids aged round about 10-14 spent the day learning Python programming. Now that could have been a dry experience for all involved – but they were learning Python by writing programs to control Minecraft running on a Raspberry Pi. They had a fabulous time.
One of the problems with teaching Python to kids is that it’s very text-based and so isn’t necessarily immediately gratifying or exciting – especially in the context of a holiday course for young teenagers. That’s why using Python to control Minecraft is an absolutely brilliant move. Minecraft became their console window where they could see the results of their programs in a very visual way; and in a way they could all immediately relate to.
The whole thing was run using the Raspberry Pi. That looked good in the course description but was probably the most disappointing part of the day. The Pi has an easily accessible environment for this approach with a cut-down version of Minecraft, an API and Python all readily available. So the Raspberry Pi is neat as a self-contained environment; but it was stretched and there were any number of frustrating crashes. It certainly wasn’t intrinsically adding anything to the day that I could see. Given this could now be done on a PC or Mac (more on that tomorrow), moving away from the Pi might be something for the future. In any case the tutors were endlessly patient and got the kids past the glitches.
What Thinkspace has plugged into is not just some cool approaches to technology and learning. The real value in the day was a group of bright kids doing some challenging things under the leadership of enthusiastic tutors. What a stunning combination. A good tutor can make all the difference to any lesson, but perhaps especially to a holiday course. I particularly liked the way the Thinkspace tutors encouraged the kids to find their own solutions, to try things out, to make mistakes and see what happened.
This sort of interesting and creative approach is exactly what Thinkspace has been doing so well recently. The course was genuinely challenging and yet a lot of fun. I don’t believe there’s anything remotely similar being regularly offered for this age-group in Sydney and we can only hope that Thinkspace continues to develop and offer opportunities like this.
For more on running Minecraft on the Raspberry Pi see mcpipy.com.