Coding in Minecraft (0): Tenacity

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[0) Tenacity, 1)  Chicken rain, 2) Creating classrooms, 3) Coordinates, 4) Variables]

Two years ago I started teaching my girls to code in python which was great fun. One month later, we went into lockdown, homeschooling and generally staring at our computers all day and the project got lost, but we did start an afterschool practice of yoga for a while, which was a bit of a giggle.

Fast forward to Christmas 2021 and my girls got new laptops as it seems having a laptop is a necessary part of going to school these days, and so I thought it was time to start teaching them to code again.

Before getting them to reinstall the anaconda.com/distribution, which I originally chose because it contained all of the packages we needed to manipulate data, I looked around to see if there was any other integrated development environment (IDE) we could use, as I originally envisaged them learning how to code without having to have a massive learning curve around the IDE, but this is hard to do, even with installations as slick and as impressive as anaconda.

It didn’t take long to find out that Minecraft have an Education Edition (M:EE) in which we could learn to code python and since my girls are mad about Minecraft and have been playing it for years and wanting me to join in, it seemed like a great idea.

I downloaded the beginners computer science syllabus for a semester of (10) classes in Microsoft M:EE aimed at Grades 6-8 (11-14 year-olds in the UK or Years 7, 8, 9) with the outcome goals being that students will be able to:

  • Change their Minecraft world through coding in Microsoft MakeCode. 
  • Describe and apply the following programming concepts: 
    • Events  
    • Coordinates 
    • Variables 
    • Conditionals 
    • Functions and parameters 
    • Iteration 
    • Arrays  
    • Artificial intelligence 
  • Synthesize the concepts in creative ways through self-directed coding projects.  

This sounded good to me and after playing with the tutorials I decided to focus on MakeCode instead of python.

Microsoft, who now own Minecraft, have designed MakeCode after Logo, a program designed back in the 1960s to teach people how to code in blocks. With MakeCode, each statement is a box or block so the student can see exactly how to nest commands inside of control statement such as a for or while loop and control the variables that way. It seems to me, to be much clearer. And, then the added advantage is that once they have do the tutorial in MakeCode, if they are still interested we can go back and do it in python, or toggle – in the Code Connect window – between MakeCode and Javascript, as I believe once you have the basics, you can code in any language.

The syllabus was aimed at teachers who had never coded and had never used Minecraft and so had step by step instructions which seemed straightforward enough, to download the software and the slides to begin teaching, and so yesterday was Minecraft day .

We got together with our laptops and we started by stepping through the slides which were simple enough and nicely laid out as I like my slides to be: Not too much information and some discussion questions such as: what is computer science and why is important?

Then we downloaded M:EE and the Code Connection apps, following the instructions in the educator’s pack. Here they are:

Software for all devices: 

  1. The Minecraft: Education Edition and Code Connection apps 
  2. An Office 365 Education account  
  3. Internet access is required for login and multiplayer 

We clicked on each of the links in point 1 installed them no problem. But, we couldn’t log in which is why we needed to do no. 2. Since Microsoft bought Minecraft, each user needs to have a Microsoft account to use as a login. So we went off to Office and created a new free account.

But we couldn’t log into Minecraft using our free accounts, so I followed the next set of instructions here (once again lifted from the instructions):

Note: For more information about:  

  1. How to download the apps, see the Required device preparation section of this document.  
  2. Office 365 Education, see www.office.com/teachers
  3. Licenses for your school, see the Volume license deployment guide.  

Clicking on the link in the no. 1 of this section led nowhere and then I clicked on no. 2 and no. 3 and I have been caught in an endless loop ever since.

With much clicking and endless tenacity I have now set up myself an organisation and I can log in. I have added my girls with their new outlook.com office email accounts to my ‘group’ in my ‘organisation’ but I can’t access them.

The main problem is there that there are literally hundreds of pages with the same information on them. It also seems that they have renamed all of the stuff and moved them about so office is now office 365 and is changing again to office business in 2023. Code Connection used to be called Code Builder and was managed by a company called ZenDesk and clicking on the link to get update advice leads invariably to a 404 not found page which is frustrating.

After banging away on my laptop clicking through and creating endless accounts, Microsoft decided that I had been hacked so made me authenticate all my moves with an authenticator app on my phone, sending me codes, to type in and so on. It was super tiring. I am not working at the Pentagon, I am on my PC trying to create logins for my girls to use some free software.

This is crazy but not unusual. This is how most IT works now. Pages are not maintained, software migrates badly from one thing to another, users need a least three different accounts before they can do one simple thing. So far, I have created:

  1. a Microsoft a/c for OneDrive so that I can open the files I need to teach the course.
  2. an Outlook a/c so that I could create an Office 365 a/c.
  3. an Office 365 a/c so that a) I could log into M:EE and b) try to buy licences for my girls to use M:EE.
  4. A Microsoft Azure Active account so I can manage my network of users (two girls) so that I can teach in Classroom Mode in M:EE- which incidently I can’t use at the same time Code Connection.

As you can see by the screenshot at the top of this blog – I have opened lots of pages, and am still no wiser as to the three usability questions which need answering in any user journey through a system/systems:

  • Where am I?
  • Where have I been?
  • Where am I going?

It seems to me that part of the problem is that Microsoft want to provide free education but they only want to do it for schools, so they have a traditional selling set up framework to provide their services. So, I have to have an IT manager and then a teacher who relies on the IT person to sort everything else and this person spends all day sorting things out. This doesn’t work in my case, or in the case of parents who are homeschooling full time. There are lots of forums out there, I know I have read a lot of them to find out this one simple bit of information: How do I create a class room on M:EE as a parent without belonging to a school?

Microsoft wants us all to buy Office – I can do as my family manager for £79.99 for 2-6 family members and then I can buy a M:EE licence for £7.99 for each of my users and one for myself. But, I don’t want to buy Office. I have all the software I need. I just want to set up a group to use M:EE whilst we step through the syllabus together to do learn to code. I am quite happy to buy the licences I need if I could but there is no guarantee that it will let me sign in even if I do purchase the amount of licences required.

I can log in now, but my girls can’t, so I either:

  • get my girls to each create themselves each an organisation so that they can login.
  • I get the girls to log in as me, so at least they get to have a go.

But we still won’t be a group learning together until I find the correct information like I am some soft of forensic scientist digging up clues on the WWW. It is madness and totally off putting. The upshot being that I renamed the first lesson: Tenacity.

Here are my points:

  • IT is straightforward.
  • Coding is straightforward.
  • Logging in should be easy.
  • Maintenance and legacy management should be straightforward but are not being practised well by Microsoft.
  • Microsoft still has ways to go until they really do what they say about free education. It is the old model of free at a price, rather like mobile phone contracts: all data free for £39.99 a month.
  • Microsoft could decide on their protocols, document them and share them easily with end users and educators alike. They could consider user groups outside of their target market.
  • It is the organisations of people who are making all of IT unnecessarily complicated. IT is as simple or as difficult as a human makes it.

My girls ended up a bit disgruntled which is fair enough and I remain baffled at how Microsoft have made logging in so unnecessarily complicated. So to make up for lost time, we did do some tutorials without logging in but it wasn’t the same as starting the journey of going off on a new course. But I loved spawning chickens and trailing flowers everywhere and want to use Minecraft to teach in.

However, Microsoft in M:EE needs to be designing for transparency and ease of use. Of course they don’t want to do that, just take my authenticator app installation, this morning it asked me if I wanted to buy Office 365 and then when I booted up my laptop it took me straight to the Microsoft store. This is bad!

This is the sign-in screen where it all began. However, when I clicked on No account? Create one! It should have given me a little box explaining exactly what to do to. Instead, it let me create an a/c and then kept me hanging there for ages jumping through security questions before hanging indefinitely. It was only after I did some research that I found out that there is no way a user can successfully create an account that way.

Oh Microsoft, what have you done to Minecraft? Coding is supposed to be fun.

Undeterred but completely cheesed off, I will keep clicking like a crazy cat until I crack this code. I made a promise to code in Minecraft and that’s what I intend to do.

In the meantime, we are binge watching Cobra Kai and American Housewife oh and playing Minecraft on PS5.

[1) Chicken rain]

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