Makersphere 2016 and why I created Web Blocks

This weekend I had the opportunity to run a Minecraft programming workshop at the Makersphere event in Preston. The atmosphere was great, with a range innovators and makers invited to attend to show off amazing projects and ideas with the hope to inspire the future generations.

Here is Jayd from Preston Hackspace showing off 3D printed goodies.
Preston Hackspace 3D Printer

I was given a classroom in which to hold my workshop. I would run 6 classes throughout the day. All the classes were fully booked.

Classroom for my Minecraft Workshop

Python coding on Raspberry Pi's

In my workshop, we would be teaching kids how to code in Python by giving them exercises that would effect the world within Minecraft. Thanks to the Raspberry Pi, this is possible, as the free Raspbian distribution comes bundled with all the tools needed to do this, including a exclusive hackable version Minecraft.

For anyone completely new to programming, it can be hard to grasp at first. Most beginner's programming tutorials will start with outputting short strings of text on the screen. For kids, this does not provide instant gratification.

Almost all children these days have played Minecraft, so it was a great idea to use it as a learning tool. When kids see that by writing code they can make something visual happen, in a world that they are familiar with, they instantly become engaged.

The children see the practical benefits of writing code to do tasks instead of doing things manually, and seeing this click in their minds is a very rewarding experience. Suddenly we see creativity. Kids instantly start thinking of new things they can do with the code that allows them to make their own worlds, each with their own rules.

Having run classes like this before, I decided I wanted to replicate this experience, but in a way that is much more accessible to the general public. As good as the Raspberry Pi is, it isn't always practical for people to use. Most people already have computers, and usually won't want to be bothered unplugged screens, keyboards and mice just so they can use their Raspberry Pi for a couple of hours. For people who have laptops, this is impossible.

So a year ago, I started working on Web Blocks. The idea behind it was blatantly taken from the Minecraft Pi Edition. It gives users a familiar world that is instantly recognisable, and a programming console that they can instantly switch to, all without installing a single piece of software.

Web Blocks code editor

It is my hope that this will further inspire more and more to learn the code, and also to have fun whilst doing it. Programming shouldn't be seen as boring, and we must do our best to demonstrate that.