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.

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7 thoughts on “Teaching with qCraft

  1. Thanks so much for doing this Joel. I have an 8 year old son who loves Minecraft, and just the other day we were riding in our golf cart and he said, “Hey Dad, I have a question. Do two people see the exact same thing? When we are riding in the golf cart, does that tree look the same to us as it does to that guy playing golf over there? Is it the same tree?” This was coming from the same kid who asked me how the universe was created when he was 5. I replied ‘some people like your Grandmother believe God created everything (which is called religion) and some people believe the universe was created during an event called the big bang (and that is called science)…but nobody really knows James’. Without a seconds hesitation he asked ‘well if God created everything, what created God….and if the big bang created everything, what was before that?’ Kids don’t get enough credit, and I couldn’t agree with you more regarding helping to shape their thinking from a very early age. They don’t need to do complex math to learn to think and question differently. Look at the influence Richard Feynman’s Dad had on his thinking. I can’t wait to introduce James to what you’re doing. Thanks so much.

    • I 100% agree that we don’t give kids enough credit for this type of thing. They are able to understand very difficult concepts if presented in an accessible way. That’s what we are trying to do with qCraft!

  2. Great concept! Can you suggest some great books that explain the topics introduced in the game? My children are 10-11 years old. Thanks!

    • Unfortunately, I do not have any personal knowledge of books that are on-topic. But doing a quick Google search on “quantum physics book for kids” turned up several promising looking titles. I would, however, strongly recommend this NOVA special “The Fabric of the Cosmos: Quantum Leap”. It has some great conceptualizations for these tough topics, and is accessible to a younger audience. Watch it here: http://video.pbs.org/video/2167398185/

  3. “his kind of conceptual leap can be quite challenging for a young person who only truly believes what they can see with their own eyes.”

    Ever heard of Santa Claus and Batman and Pikachu and Unicorns, Mr. Educational Director?

    • Santa and the rest CAN be seen with a child’s own eyes. In pictures, videos, etc. They can easily visualize a big guy in a red suit, etc. That’s what makes it more tangible. It’s harder to do that with the an abstract concept like superposition. Which is exactly what we are attempting with qCraft!

      ~Joel

  4. Pingback: Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog » What the quantum?

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