I spent the summer playing, discussing and/or presenting immersive environments. Nearly every day since the end of the school year I have been obsessed with exploring the possibilities of taking the wonderful world of video games and integrating it into my classroom. Ever since I was a kid, playing on our Texas Instrument TI-99, I have been enamored with video games. This blog post is a three part story of how I reclaimed my love for teaching…through video games.
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if only one remembers to turn on the light.” (Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban)
Part 1- The Light
The whole adventure really started with Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My wife and I took our kids and it was nothing short of magical. It was the first time, in a long time, that I felt like a kid again…and it felt good. Over the years it is easy to get stuck in the rut of life. As educators, I think we often retreat to our own classroom, shut the door, and isolate ourselves. I have done this for years…I had lost my light. After a few days of just having fun and letting myself be a kid again, I had found it again…my light.
Shortly after this experience, I left for San Antonio and ISTE. For those who have never been, it’s like Comic Con for educators. At ISTE I spent most of my time listening about, playing, and conversing about gaming and immersive environments. I wanted to take the feeling I had while at the Wizarding World and transfer that into my classroom. Of course, I don’t have a multimillion dollar budget or a team of park designers so how was I going to do this? During this time I saw Tweets about the Blade Runner 2049 interactive installation at Comic Con where they recreated a set from the movie for people to hang out in and experience. Between the firehose of ideas from ISTE, my own experience from the Wizarding World, and what I saw happening at places like Comic Con, I knew I had to figure this out.
Part 2- Block by Block
I have had some crazy ideas over the years, but none of them really panned out…until this year. I have been playing Minecraft for about four years with my own two kids. When Microsoft put out Minecraft: Education Edition, I knew I had to have it. I was even prepared to pay for it myself. I knew how incredible it was to play in an open world and create/destroy at will. My district paid for it and I started using it in my class. It was awesome! In fact, I decided to make a series of videos for teachers to help them better understand it. I actually made it with my wife in mind…she has never played Minecraft (she teaches kindergarten). I wanted to make videos for teachers that had never played video games, let alone one as big as Minecraft. So, I did…and then I tagged the Minecraft: Education Edition (MEE) team in my social post about my first video. I never thought they would even see it. A few days later I was contacted by Neal Manegold, Senior Manager of MEE, about having it featured on their website. I guess you could say the rest is history…at least recent history (this all happened in the last three months). I am now a Minecraft Global Mentor and have met some incredible people through the mentor program. A huge shout out to Meenoo Rami, Manager MEE, for challenging me with asking the right questions and focusing on student learning first. (A note on the MEE team: these people are truly passionate about education and helping educators)
So, what does this have to do with reclaiming my love of video games? Well, after working with MEE so much this summer I realized I had a way (or at least one way) to create immersive environments in my classroom with no budget. I can create an entire world within Minecraft and all it takes is time and some planning. The next quest I had was to bridge the real and digital world.
Part 3- Easter Eggs
This summer I tried to watch every documentary about video games I could get my hands on…and it was amazing! I learned about the fall of Atari, the new narrative of games, indie game makers, game design, the process of creating digital worlds, and how games are received today. I watched Ernie Cline (alumni of my own high school and the school where I currently teach) discuss his own experiences with video games which ultimately led to the science fiction genius that is Ready Player One. Everything started to click…if we leverage video games and/ or the incredibly positive experience while playing games how could this change school? How many more kids might find school a place of inspiration and possibility? How many more kids would be searching for Easter eggs in their education?
So, another school year is about to begin. We can retreat to our classrooms and lay in isolation yet again or we can let go and explore what we love about learning. I love to experience the universe of imagination that is literature and games. Maybe for you, it is the elegant beauty of equations, the vast system of economics, or the simplicity of shapes…find your light, pursue your passions, and don’t be afraid to be childlike. Make this school year about letting go and allowing your kids to explore their own brilliance.