IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Can Kids Learn STEM Through Minecraft and Roblox?

By inviting students to create their own versions of Roblox, Minecraft and Unity, a school in Houston is introducing them to Python, HTML, CSS and Javascript to help them build sites and other tech creations.

STEM graphic
Shutterstock
(TNS) — All those hours kids spend on Roblox and Minecraft might not be for naught—a new school in Houston's Oak Park aims to encourage kids to learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through coding and robotics.

Rather than having students endure lessons or conquer levels, Code Wiz Oak Forest students build video games and create animations. Instead of taking tests, kids can create their own versions of Roblox (where online players build their own games and can play those built by others), Minecraft (a video game where players create blocky worlds) and Unity (a platform where users build 3D animations).

Students are introduced to programming language Python, HTML, CSS and Javascript to help them build sites and craft other tech creations. They also can participate in the robotics team for the FIRST LEGO League Challenge.

The school's location at Oak Forest and 34th streets was intentionally chosen by owner Joy Jones. "It was important to be central," Jones says. "We have something now in our community that will bring computer science, coding robotics local. We want to be a small business, good citizen."

When first meeting Jones, it is obvious that her first name, Joy, is fitting. Enthusiasm and passion radiate from her when she talks about why she wants kids to become involved in STEM. "We want a sense of wonderment," she says. "We want them to come here to learn to code and to have fun."

For someone who is so passionate about coding, you think Jones would be an expert in it. But she isn't. Jones' passion for STEM originated when she was a part of the oil and gas industry and was tasked with giving away scholarships. Applicants who indicated that they wanted to study in the STEM field received bonus points for consideration, but Jones was shocked by the incredibly low number of applications the organization was receiving from Houston ISD.

"I was calling school counselors, principals, teachers like, 'Hey, I'm giving away money, how can I get kids to apply?'" Jones recalls. She was surprised when a counselor at a STEM magnet school told her that their students were not interested in the STEM field, but most wanted to become teachers.

"There's absolutely nothing wrong with being a teacher, that's not what I'm saying," Jones elaborates. "But when we started digging a little bit deeper, we discovered that a lot of the professionals in their neighborhoods were teachers. Other professionals had moved out to the suburbs. They weren't seeing the people in STEM and so they weren't wanting to go into it."

When visiting HISD schools for career days, Jones' noticed that students started to glaze over whenever she attempted to tout the career possibilities in STEM. But once the pilots from the Organization of Black Aeronautics Professionals stepped up in their slick uniforms, the audience perked up.

Jones realized she probably would not learn to fly a manned plane any time soon, but she could still learn something that could engage kids' interests. She became an FAA Part 107 certified drone pilot in 2021.

"It was really more about showing them the opportunities they had," Jones explains. She references a report by Dell Technologies and the Institute for the Future (IFTF) which predicts that 85 percent of the jobs in 2030 have not been created yet.

"Technology is exponentially changing and transforming the way we do everyday tasks, jobs and navigation through life," Jones says. "The jobs of the future are going to have technology involved in one shape or another."

Jones took the next step in championing STEM when her father died last year. Suddenly, she was hunting for a flexible career that would allow her to be her mother's primary caregiver while launching a drone program for schools. Jones nearly became the owner of a Jiffy Lube or a Discount Tire until her franchise consultant introduced her to Code Wiz.

"Code Wiz allows kids to take an interest in computer science and robotics in languages they already understand," Jones says. "We have a Montessori approach so we're project-based and that makes us different than other coding franchises because we really spend a lot of time listening to what the kid wants. What are your dreams? What do you want to build."

Jones says the responses can involve everything from having a cat jump over a building to a superhero's cape flutter in the wind. "We listen and see their faces light up when it's part of their project," Jones says.

Code Wiz Oak Forest is for students ages 7-17 and classes are currently after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well as on Saturdays. Jones says that more classes will be offered as more students join. The first 50 families who sign up will receive monthly memberships for life at $136.51 (the number of Pi).

The school's grand opening is Saturday, Jan. 14, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Attendees can enjoy food, games and trying out the school's virtual reality sets and 3D printer while learning about Code Wiz Oak Forest.

Code Wiz also has locations in Katy and Cypress.

©2023 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.