Teaching with qCraft

How do you teach quantum physics to a 7-year-old?

Clearly the math and physics required are too difficult to attempt a rigorous study of the science.  And gaining a true understanding of quantum phenomenon means accepting that the universe functions very differently on a minuscule scale than it does in our everyday experience.  This kind of conceptual leap can be quite challenging for a young person who only truly believes what they can see with their own eyes.

So why bother?  Does a young child need to know what is happening in the subatomic world around them?  I think the answer is an unqualified “yes”.

By the time our 7-year-old finishes grad school, quantum computers may be commonplace.  A fundamental shift is on the horizon.  Some of the hardest problems in medicine, aerospace, statistics, and more will be tackled by machines using qubits instead of bits.  And it is the kids of today who will research, build, and utilize this revolutionary new class of hardware.  And to be perfectly frank, too few children are exposed to these sciences or are encouraged to pursue them as a career path.

We set out to address that by meeting kids where they choose to spend their time: in Minecraft.

I am quite proud of the way we’ve used Minecraft to illustrate some of the trickiest concepts in quantum physics.  Blocks exhibit observer dependency and change according to who looks at them and how.  Superpositional blocks can be more than one thing simultaneously.  Entangled blocks are linked over vast distances across the Minecraft world.  These are big words and big concepts in physics, but we’ve translated them into new-yet-familiar Minecraft blocks.  And if there is one thing kids today are used to, it’s figuring out new game mechanics and the potentials they unlock.

It is our firm belief that when a young person who has played qCraft encounters these challenging concepts again, they will have an increased intuitive understanding.

Perhaps they will encounter them years later in a high school or college physics course.  Or perhaps they will encounter them again much sooner in their own explorations online.  Children are naturally inquisitive and will hunt for understanding of the unfamiliar.  It is our hope that after learning new scientific concepts in Minecraft, our players will seek to learn more on their own.

A quick Google search for the term “entanglement” will lead an inquisitive youngster down a fascinating rabbit hole, indeed…

Joel Levin is Education Director at TeacherGaming. He blogs and tweets as the Minecraft Teacher.