Power up: How esports accelerates achievement and personal growth

Educators are teaching a variety of skills using video games

The esports coach at Sedro-Woolley High School north of Seattle also teaches math based on video games in the classroom. Leveraging his students’ passion for fantasy battle game League of Legends, teacher Jason Dilley’s esports curriculum tasks his players with understanding the numbers behind the virtual action.

“You build weapons and armor within the game to improve your character,” says Dilley, whose school is a part of the Sedro-Woolley School District. “They’re learning how to gather good data, how to analyze data, and how to make histograms so they can test which weapons do the most damage in 10 seconds.”

Dilley, who started the esports team three years ago, is also writing curriculum for an introduction to esports careers class.

Because few players of esports, or any sports, will become professionals, Dilley’s esports curriculum will cover esports marketing and social media; event management; livestreaming; and the art of “theory crafting,” which is gamer speak for strategy planning.

Read more from DA: How soft skills drive Virginia’s high school esports league

These video games and education, and being part of a team, is helping students become more engaged in school and develop some critical soft skills, Dilley says.

“Gaming has a lot of negative stigmas, and some of those stigmas have some merit,” he says. “When kids play games at home by themselves, they see negative behavior, internalize that and take it out into the world. When you have responsible adults in the room, they are teaching kids that these things are bad.”

There is such a thing as a free esport curriculum

The California-based North America Scholastic Esports Federation, formerly known as the Orange County Esports League, has developed an extensive (and free) esports curriculum.

The program, which integrates video games in the classroom with several core subjects, focuses heavily on the many career paths in the rapidly expanding esports industry, says Tom Turner, the federation’s chief education officer.

Video games in the classroom, along with an esports curriculum and a competitive team, are teaching students at Tipton High School in Indiana better gaming habits.
Video games in the classroom, along with an esports curriculum and a competitive team, are teaching students at Tipton High School in Indiana better gaming habits.

Video games and education start with English language arts, where students can examine the narrative elements of games by reading books such as Ready Player One and Ender’s Game, and then come up with their own characters, plots and adventures.

In a bridge from ELA to career and technical education, students can begin writing a business plan for an esports team while also learning how to organize a team, develop a marketing campaign and create branding.

Read more from DA: How high school esports unites Wisconsin students

The esports curriculum can be used to develop an entire course or a two-week module in another class, says Turner, who’s also the executive director of the Educational Services Division for the Orange County Department of Education.

And any of these academic topics can be taught to students after school, during club and team meetings.

“You may have 55 kids who want to participate, but only five can play on the team,” Turner says. “You can keep the other 50 engaged by offering leadership opportunities.”

The federation also just launched a fellowship program to provide teachers with professional development to integrate an esports curriculum into instruction and after-school activities.

‘Happy, excited and doing well’

When teacher John Robertson won his first grant to start an esports team at Tipton High School in Indiana, some educators weren’t convinced, he says.

Students playing and studying esports can use screen time in a productive way at Tipton High School in Indiana.
Students playing and studying esports can use screen time in a productive way at Tipton High School in Indiana.

“Some teachers did not think video gaming should be in school, but we’ve won them over because we’re using it in a positive way,” says Robertston, whose school is a part of the Tipton Community School Corporation. “Screen time is not necessarily bad if it’s used for a bigger and better cause.”

In fact, the video games in the classrooms have become learning resources. For instance, in Forza Motorsport, students can repair cars. And during the upcoming semester, Robertson will teach a class on the literature and history of video games.

Read more from DA: How esports is thriving in a New Jersey middle school

During play, students are also learning better gaming habits. “It can be a tough sell to say we’re playing video games in the classroom,” Robertson says. “But the kids are going to play games, so why not have them do it under the guidance of teachers who can show them how to be good citizens while they’re doing it.”

More broadly, students who were failing courses and missing school frequently have joined the team, and now have a renewed and powerful reason to improve their grades and attendance records.

“Their school spirit is on the rise because they don’t feel like school is just a place to come and get homework every day,” he says. “It’s so good to see kids who never had joy at school become all of a sudden happy and excited to be here and doing well in their classes.”

Matt Zalaznick is senior writer.

Interested in esports? Keep up with LRP’s Academic Esports Conference and Expo.


Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is the managing editor of District Administration and a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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