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Microsoft announced the next effort in a series of educational Minecraft products today: the Minecraft Hour of Code Designer, a free tutorial co-developed by Code.org that teaches students as young as six years old the basic problem-solving and critical thinking skills that underly programming.

Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi.
Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi.

The program was created for the Hour of Code, an annual campaign that takes place during Computer Science week from Dec. 5-11 and encourages young students and educators to spend an hour learning coding skills. A Minecraft tutorial developed for last year’s event reached 30 million students worldwide, Microsoft says.

The new tutorial builds on last year’s success, allowing students to program and play their own Minecraft games. The game uses Code.org’s drag-and-drop coding interface to teach students basic computer science concepts such as object-oriented programming, event-handlers and repeat loops.

The students face a series of 12 challenges that teach them skills, and are then able to create their own game, which they can then share and play with friends. The games are highly customizable — students use the skills they learned to make monsters run away instead of attacking, or chickens that lay solid gold.

“We are partnering with Code.org again this year to make computer science more accessible to millions of youth around the world with ‘Minecraft’ and Hour of Code,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “I am inspired by the ‘Minecraft’ generation who view themselves not as players of a game, but as creators of the new worlds they dream up. This is the generation that will imagine, build and create our future, and together we can equip them with the computational thinking and problem-solving skills to seize the opportunities ahead.”

The dramatic rise in tech and computer science jobs projected over the coming decades is shining a light on early computer science education, leading to increased efforts like the Hour of Code that attempt to develop tools for young learners.

“Code.org was founded with the vision that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science — not only because it’s foundational for any career, but because students love it,” Hadi Partovi, co-founder and CEO of Code.org, said in a release. “‘Minecraft’ is a special game that appeals to a diverse global community. We’re delighted to have the chance to teach students coding with the fun familiarity of ‘Minecraft,’ to engage students of all backgrounds and skill levels.”

Code.org has collaborated on a number of programs for the Hour of Code campaign, including Frozen and Star Wars-themed hits in years past.

Microsoft, which acquired Minecraft developer Mojang last year, has developed other educational tools based on the popular game, including Minecraft: Education Edition which allows educators to use the game as a sandbox for various lesson plans.

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