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School's out for summer? Not for Minecraft Education Edition

Microsoft's open-ended megahit lets players build castles and battle monsters. The education-focused version will come with lesson plans and student projects.

Kids can explore this virtual version of "The Pool of London," a 1906 painting by André Derain, rendered in Minecraft's blocky world through a project at the UK's Tate galleries.

Tate

Minecraft is already a hit at schools. Now Microsoft plans to release a version of its blocky video game tailored for education.

A hundred schools will start testing Minecraft Education Edition in May, but more can get it in June when a free early-access program begins, Microsoft and its Mojang game studio said Thursday.

Microsoft didn't reveal how much the final version will cost or when it will arrive. But as Microsoft develops the software itself, the company will also create projects to help teachers use it.

"During the summer months, we are also going to be focused on working with educators on building out lesson plans, sharing learning activity ideas and creating reusable projects," Microsoft said.

Minecraft players turn trees, animals and minerals resources into tools, weapons and shelter to survive nightly monster onslaughts. It's a major hit, with more than 70 million copies sold. It's not just about survival, though. A creative mode lets players build fanciful structures, automate pig farming and even reproduce the complicated internal workings of computer logic circuitry.

This open-endedness has made Minecraft adaptable to everything from computer programming to art history. Especially because kids take the initiative to learn with Minecraft on their own, it's no wonder schools like it and parents don't freak out so much when kids get obsessed.

Minecraft Education Edition is part of a big transition for the game. Swedish developer Mojang began the project using the Java programming language. That's been popular for people who like to write modifications, called mods, that alter how Minecraft works. But newer versions of Minecraft, notably the Pocket Edition that runs on Apple iPhones and iPads and on phones and tablets powered by Google's Android software, are written in the C++ language instead.

The Education Edition will use this C++ foundation, Microsoft said. That means no mods, at least initially. But Microsoft plans to bring mods and command blocks -- another key way to tweak Minecraft -- to the next C++ version. Education Edition will require Windows 10 or Apple's OS X 10.11 El Capitan, Microsoft added.

Minecraft for Facebook's Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and for Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality headset also use the C++ foundation.