Unofficial Minecraft STEM Lab for Kids

Unofficial Minecraft STEM Lab for Kids

Unofficial Minecraft STEM Lab for Kids










Unofficial Minecraft STEM Lab for Kids

John Miller

Chris Fornell Scott

Quarry Books, 2018

144pp., pbk., RRP $A27.99


Apparently, 74 million people play Minecraft each month, one of those is Miss 12 who is now hooked on coding, and many of whom are in schools where the game is being used in many scenarios as part of the everyday learning experience.  For some time, the teacher librarian networks I belong to have been peppered with queries about how it can best be used and so a book that specifically focuses on its use in the science, technology, maths and engineering strands will be of great value to teachers whose students are clamouring for these sorts of experiences but whose personal knowledge and skills of the game are not as developed as those of those they teach.

Beginning with a thorough explanation of what Minecraft is, how it works, how it can be used and played and purchased so that parents and teachers understand its value both in school and beyond – the book’s focus is ‘to connect the Minecraft player(s) in their life with STEM learning…to help bridge the gap between game-play and engaging STEM concepts” –  it moves on to six themed quests, each of which presents four labs, which, in turn, have two parts – an out-of-game activity that requires hands-on exploration and an in-game building and crafting activity.

Quest 1: Pistons, Rails, and Redstone
Quest 2: Construction Zone
Quest 3: The Sky is Not Your Limit
Quest 4: Rocks, Minerals, and Gems
Quest 5: Cycles in Science
Quest 6: Engineering Challenge

In terms of the quality of content, Miss 12 would probably be a better reviewer than I, but in her absence, this review by a Minecraft expert suggests that it is “outstanding” and gives a comprehensive tour of the contents and layout.  The credentials of the authors also convince me of its authority. However, as a non-Minecraft person who wears a teacher’s hat, it would seem to me to be the perfect tool to not only capture an audience who prefer gaming to reading but also to use its user-friendliness to explore things not necessarily intellectually or physically in the teacher’s toolbox.  Added to that is this article which shows that onscreen adventures are leading children to discover their origins in print.  

I’m beginning to see what all the conversations have been about and why there is such excitement about this game that demands so much more of the student than pressing buttons or manipulating levers.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…


Computer Coding Games for Kids

Computer Coding Games for Kids

Computer Coding Games for Kids










Computer Coding Games for Kids

Jon Woodcock

Dorling Kindersley, 2016

224pp., pbk., RRP $A35.00


Way back when, in the dawning of the age of home computers which were huge and clumsy in comparison to today’s mini-marvels; which ran on cassette tapes; had green or amber font on a black screen and had no facility to display graphics, if you wanted to play a game you bought a book of instructions and carefully tapped the commands in, one keystroke at a time. It was the realm of the real computer nerd and if you were patient and precise, eventually you got to play the most basic of games.

Fast forward 30+ years and now our kids have computers in their pockets, on their wrists and even in their clothes.  And with the increased focus on science, technology, engineering and maths once again the red-hot buzzword in schools is ‘coding’ as students learn not to program a clumsy turtle that only went backwards, forwards and sideways, but to create and develop their own games to play, some in the hope that theirs will be even bigger than Pokémon Go!  

But no longer do they have to sit in solitary confinement painstakingly tap, tap, tapping. These days, the most commonly used development tool is Scratch™, a free program which “helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for life in the 21st century”, and Dorling Kindersley have produced what might be the beginners’ bible in learning how to create a computer game.  Not for them the single volume, monochrome “pamphlet” that crossed your eyes just looking at it – this is a beautifully presented, full colour, step-by-step guide presented in the typical DK layout that is so user-friendly.  Beginning with an introduction that describes what makes a good game, the types of games and how coding works, it moves on to introducing Scratch, accessing it and then straight into making a basic game, eventually moving on to more and more complex tasks and challenges.    

Fifteen years ago I went to computer classes and tried very hard to make a cow jump over the moon using a program Macromedia Flash™.  Night after night it absorbed me until I gave up in defeat and despair – clearly I just didn’t have the brain for it.  So to test out Computer Coding Games for Kids I read through the introductory chapters, accessed Scratch™ and had a go at the first project – Star Hunter, “a fast-paced underwater treasure hunt.”  In just seven quick steps I had a cat that followed my mouse all around the screen and was ready to build the next part of the game. WINNER!  If I can do it, anyone can! So when the curriculum requires students to have a basic knowledge of coding, this has to be the go-to book for teachers and students.  Even the most confirmed luddite will succeed and the students will be having such fun as they read and follow instructions and learn without realising it that ‘coding’ will become a key part of the school day!   

In fact this book was going to be a donation to a school library I know but I think I will keep it because I can see hours of fun ahead for Miss 10 and Miss 5 and me on the wintery days yet to come for us and even those when it’s too hot to go outside.  Who knows, we may be the creators of the next Pokémon Go!

Lift-the-flap Computers and Coding

Lift-the-flap Computers and Coding

Lift-the-flap Computers and Coding














Lift-the-flap Computers and Coding

Rosie Dickins

Shaw Nielsen

Usborne, 2015

16pp., board book, RRP $A19.99



Among the stated outcomes of the Digital Technologies strand of the Australian Curriculum for students in Foundation to Year 2 are the ability to “recognise and explore digital systems (hardware and software components) for a purpose” and “follow, describe and represent a sequence of steps and decisions (algorithms) needed to solve simple problems”.   So right from their first years of formal schooling, our students are expected to be able to understand the parts of a computer, use software and begin to mainuplate the devices to meet their needs. 

This book with its myriad of flaps to lift and explore is perfect for introducing this age group to what computers are and how they work.  Starting with “What’s a computer?” and an explanation of what coding is, it moves on to show how computers think including lots of interactive activities that encourage the reader to participate and thus gain a better understanding of the focus topic.  For example, the binary code is explained and then the reader is challenged to convert decimal numbers to binary with the answers under the flaps.  Pictures via pixels are explained and so are colours.  There’s even a treasure map to help Pixel the Pirate hunt for treasure while  teaching about writing instructions and flow charts. The flaps reveal answers, explanations and things to think about ensuring that the reader is actively engaged in their learning.

The more I delved into this book the more I went back to my early days of learning to program a turtle using Logo and even earlier still to when we bought books with the coding for games in them and we put these into our basic computers which ran on audio tapes!  This book encourages kids to explore and use Scratch which is so highly recommended by my computer guru colleagues and just continues on with so much inof and fun that I’m surprised it hasn’t been written before! 

But even if you buy multiple copies of this for your students, you should also consider buying it for those teachers who feel daunted by the requirements of the curriculum because apart from helping them understand the technical aspects of computers and coding, it offers a myriad of ideas for supporting the learning within the classroom using activities that don’t require a device.  You might also like to scour your TR section for all those books about encouraging logical thinking and problem solving that were so common a few years ago because they are all grist to the mill, and also return to the basics of the information literacy process of

  • What am I being asked to do?
  • What do I already know?
  • What more do I need to find out?
  • Where can I find that information?

So even if writing a million-dollar-making app is beyond the reach of many nevertheless they will have had lots of scaffolding and experience in thinking logically, posing and answering questions and solving problems – which all the futurists says are the essential foundation skills for the future.


Adventure Time Which Way Dude: BMO’s Day Out

Adventure Time Which Way Dude: BMO's Day Out

Adventure Time Which Way Dude: BMO’s Day Out











Adventure Time Which Way Dude: BMO’s Day Out

Cartoon Network, 2015

124pp., pbk., RRP $A14.95


BMO is the cutest, tiniest little robot in the Land of Ooo but the future of Ooo is in the hands of the reader because at the end of each chapter it is up to the reader to decide what happens next.  By solving riddles, puzzles and codes the reader can alter the characters paths thus leading them on to new adventures.  It’s a chance to let BMO be the hero for once.  Along the way the reader gathers Adventure Minutes and the challenge is to read the book many times, make different choices and try to better the number of Adventure Minutes gained.

A new take on the popular Choose Your Own Adventure format, written in the present tense to increase the pace and sense of urgency, this is likely to appeal to those who enjoy cartoons and computer games and can visualise the action. They will enjoy its interactivity as they try to solve the puzzles and the challenge to gain Adventure Minutes gives that competitive element that is a characteristic of the gaming environment.

If we are looking to capitalise of the interest in cartoons and computer games that our younger readers are so familiar with, offering them that in print format may be the way to hook them into a whole new world of adventure.