Teaching kids about electronic circuits with Minecraft
My son, like many other 8 year olds of both genders*, loves Minecraft. I keep an eye out for people that have developed ways of letting kids learn-by-building in Minecraft. Like many things, it’s a lot of talk and little actual action. (* Seeing young girls at Minecon in Orlando, FL this year gave me a hope that my profession, Computer Science, may not be a gendered one forever.)
So when I realized you could build the most basic of logic gates (NOT, AND, OR, NOR, NAND, XNOR,
XAND) in Minecraft, it occurred to me I could teach my son basic principles of logic when he thought he was just playing. Given the number of if-then statements I’ve written in my life, I figured that if he does pursue Computer Science or Electrical Engineering this will be very useful. If he decides to flip burgers with a Philosophy degree, well, at least he’ll be well-prepared for logic class.
I offered him the usual reward (a chore point), for building two circuits:
- A circuit with a lever and a door that opened the door when you turned the lever on; and
- A circuit with a lever and a door that closed the door when you turned the lever on.
This failed because I realized I was trying to teach him how to discover what weird combination of items needed to be collected together to make a NOT gate. That’s really just googling or trial and error. What I needed to do was make it one step simpler by giving him all the tools and letting him figure out the combination necessary to make it, and have him apply the logic gate to see how a NOT worked.
With that in mind, I gave him the following exercises. This is a work in progress, so I’ll update this blog post as I go.
Exercise 1: NOT gate
I showed my son how to use torches, blocks, redstone, and a door to create a NOT gate. The image below demonstrates it, courtesy of Univ. of Arkansas Math Department.
The actual homework then is to build four circuits using only redstone, a lever, cobblestone, a redstone torch, and a door.
- Build a circuit that opens a door 5 units away when the lever is turned on.
- Build a circuit that closes a door 5 units away when the lever is turned on.
- Build a circuit with two doors 5 units away. When the lever is turned on, both doors are opened.
- Build a circuit with two doors 5 units away. When the lever is turned on, one door is opened, but the other door is closed.
Exercise 2: AND gate
Build a circuit in Minecraft that has two switches and turns on a redstone torch when both switches are on, but only when both switches are on.
Exercise 3: OR gate
Build a circuit in Minecraft that has two switches and turns on a redstone torch when:
- both switches are on, but only when both switches are on; or
- when one switch is on.
The only time the torch is dark is when both switches are off.
Exercise 4: NAND gate
Build a circuit in Minecraft that has two switches and turns on a redstone torch when any switch is turned off.
The only time the torch is dark is when both switches are on.
Exercise 5: NOR gate
Build a circuit in minecraft that only turns on a glowstone block when both switches are off.
Exercise 6: XOR gate
Build a circuit that is on when both levers are set opposite (one on, and one off).
Exercise 7: XNOR gate
Build a circuit that turns a glowstone block on when both levers are the same.
- At the beginning of every exercise I drew a box like the one below and had my child fill in the states for each setting, so he would know how to tell when he was done.
- At first, my son thought looking up the answer on the Internet was cheating. I told him no, that everyone learns from someone else, and he just has to be honest about what he took. When he got to the XNOR exercise, he told me the guy that did a YouTube video about it was wrong in what he had built, and that it didn’t actually work like an XNOR. “It’s an impossible task!” he said. After getting something to eat, my son then fixed it and presented it to a very proud father.