When kids open Minecraft, Microsoft doesn’t just want them exploring dark caverns, endless plains, and procedurally generated mountains; it wants them exploring places carved out of the real world, like ancient Pompeii, the pyramids of Giza, and Greek temples — places they can learn from. To start making that happen, Microsoft is today announcing Minecraft: Education Edition, a new version of Minecraft that’s customized for schools.
For now, the changes aren’t dramatic. Minecraft: Education Edition is essentially the exact same Minecraft you’ve been playing for years, but with a few extra features geared toward ease of use. That includes improving Minecraft‘s mapping feature so that a class can actually find its way around, letting teachers lock in certain resources for students to use, and adding an in-game camera and scrapbook to handle screenshots for cataloging where you’ve been. Microsoft is quick to emphasize that its keeping the changes minor because it doesn’t want to make Minecraft into a straight educational product; it’s still a game first a foremost — and therefore something kids want to use — just one that happens to have applications in the classroom.
The success of Education Edition may rest on another big piece of Microsoft’s announcement: it’s also launching a website where educators can submit Minecraft worlds and lesson plans to go along with them. There are already a few up as an example. One includes a map in the style of feudal Japan for the discussion of Japanese poetry, another uses Minecraft bricks to great effect in displaying Brutalist architecture, while a third includes enormous molecules that can be explored. Kids won’t be solving puzzles or taking quizzes in these worlds; Minecraft will essentially just be a way to let them step into historical and scientific settings to get a better understanding of what’s being taught in class.