COVID-19 esports series: Kansas school shares winning strategies

Dr. Kristy Custer, principal, and Michael Russell, teacher, at Complete High School Maize offer tips on remote instruction and gaming.
By: | May 18, 2020

The Academic Esports Conference & Expo is providing technology, academic and esports leaders and professionals with guidance to help navigate the Covid-19 pandemic impacting schools and colleges across the nation. We understand this is a very difficult and unforeseen time in the lives of all educators. As we all work through this together, we are collecting useful insights and strategies from top scholastic esports leaders; plus our magazines, District Administration and University Business, are keeping on top of all the developments and passing helpful information on to you here.

This week, Principal Dr. Kristy Custer and teacher Michael Russell of Complete High School Maize in Kansas, the authors of the popular and free esports Gaming Concepts curriculum, offer impactful tips to utilize during this remote learning period:

  1. Provide Resources: As many schools have moved to an online venue, video gaming is not only a companion platform for learning, but also a comfortable medium that most students are already familiar with. Provide families with high-caliber resources that enhance learning and help set healthy online expectations. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has a simple Family Discussion Guide applicable to all age groups that guides caretakers through common sense conversations with their children. The High School Esports League also offers a free online gaming curriculum in conjunction with the Microsoft Educator Community. Caretakers and teachers can download this curriculum to use as an entire course or as standalone lessons.
  2. Preserve Equity: As families adjust to this new educational normal, educators must be mindful of the diverse technology and human resources available to households. While some homes have plentiful devices, high speed internet, and available adults to facilitate learning, other homes may have no technology at all and limited adult assistance with learning. To preserve equity among students, educators must provide both online and non-technology resources. Some people are surprised at the connection between video games and board games. Teamwork, strategic thinking, socialization, and academic engagement are just a few of the benefits board games and video games have in common. Equally engaging for many students, board games provide a non-technology alternative to online gaming.
  3. Promote the positive aspects of video gaming: As out-of-the-box thinking has become the new standard in education, now is the time to promote the positive effects of online gaming. The World Health Organization is utilizing the vast reach of online gaming as a safe social activity that can connect people while maintaining social distance. Video game industry leaders united behind WHO’s health initiatives to launch the #PlayApartTogether campaign that encourages gamers to follow WHO’s health guidelines while supporting positive video gaming experiences. As educators struggle to engage learners, meeting them in the venues where they are spending their time – inside video games – might be just the connection educators are looking for.
  4. Extend personal invitations: “Contact me if you need help” is the in-class equivalent of “Are there any questions?” Neither is an effective way to engage learners if there is no follow-up from the educator. Because of the limited face-to-face interaction between educators and students while social distancing, it is difficult to determine how well students are really doing both emotionally and educationally. Scheduling group online gaming matches and inviting students to join encourages authentic check-in and social interaction that is so vital to staying healthy during social distancing.
  5. Acknowledge that less is more: This is new, and new is hard. Online learning isn’t about taking lesson plans and putting them online, it’s about taking an institution and flipping it upside down. The first lesson educators must learn is “less is more”. Kansas, the first state to cancel in-person classes for the rest of the school year, developed a Continuous Learning Plan that focused on “critical standards” only and limited MAXIMUM student commitment each day to: PreK, 30 minutes; Grades K-1, 45 minutes; Grades 2-3, 60 minutes; Grades 4-5, 90 minutes; Grades 6-12, 30 minutes per teacher (3 hours max in a day). Because most students don’t view playing video games as “learning”, educators can often “sneak in” vital learning elements not always deemed as “critical standards” such as social-emotional learning during student gaming time.

Dr. Kristy Custer and Michael Russell are leaders at Complete High School Maize, an alternative school that is a program of the Maize and Maize South high schools for those students who have difficulty in the traditional school environment. Many of the activities planned for student learning are “hands-on” projects that fit a smaller setting. 

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