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​Brain games: Microsoft's version of Minecraft for schools is here

Any school can now set its students loose in the blocky virtual world. It's still in testing but the final version is due in September.

Minecraft Education Edition comes with a number of character skins.

Microsoft

If you're a teacher frustrated by kids surreptitiously checking SnapChat and sending text messages, you might think a videogame is the last thing you need in the classroom. But Microsoft launched a new version of its Minecraft game Thursday to try to change that opinion.

Minecraft Education Edition is a tweaked version of the immensely popular game -- 100 million copies have been sold to date. In the game, your character explores a blocky virtual world, avoids the nighttime assault of malicious creatures called mobs, and constructs anything from protective shelter to complicated virtual machinery. A stress-free creative mode defangs the mobs and removes limits on resources.

A tutorial world gives students and teachers an introduction to Minecraft Education Edition.

Microsoft

The open-ended design makes it good for creative exploration, which is why schools are flocking to Minecraft. It's a rare case where adult supervision approves of a game that kids play obsessively.

Microsoft's Minecraft Education Edition has been in beta testing at more than 100 schools, but the company is now expanding the test program so any school can try it for free. The final version will cost between $1 and $5 per student when it's done in September. It brings some differences from ordinary Minecraft:

  • A collaboration mode that easily lets up to 30 students all join the same virtual world.
  • Tools to let students take screenshots and document their work.
  • Chalkboards and nonplayer characters that teachers can use to guide students.
  • Integration with schools' existing login tools.

A classroom interface is in the works, too. It'll let teachers see where on a map their students' characters are, teleport in the world to visit them and chat within the game.

Microsoft also published a number of educational projects on its Minecraft Education Edition website, including lessons on population growth, deforestation and the mathematical concepts of factors and multiples.