​Microsoft uses Minecraft to get kids to learn programming

A new one-hour programming tutorial lets students understand better how to build something as sophisticated as the wildly popular Minecraft game.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
Microsoft is trying to use Minecraft to teach kids how to program.​

Microsoft is trying to use Minecraft to teach kids how to program.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

With more than a million copies sold, Minecraft already is squarely in the center of tech kids' lives. Now Microsoft wants to take advantage of that position to encourage kids to program the game, not just play it.

On Tuesday, the company released a new online tutorial for Code.org's Hour of Code, a nonprofit effort sponsored by many tech companies to get children programming.

It'll look familiar to those who've used introductory programming projects like Google's Pencil Code or MIT's Scratch: Commands take the form of Lego-like pieces you snap together into a sequence that controls an on-screen character. Puzzles alternate with video tutorials explaining new programming concepts.

Programming isn't for everyone, but many schools and businesses are trying to expose students to it as a way to build skills for the 21st century, when tech is spreading beyond PCs and phones into cars, refrigerators , thermostats, and many other corners of our lives.

President Barack Obama has endorsed the Code.org effort.

"If we want America to stay on the cutting edge, we need young Americans like you to master the tools and technology that will change the way we do just about everything," Obama said in a 2013 video. "Don't just buy a new video game. Make one... Don't just play on your phone. Program it."