Esports + Learning? You Have to be Kidding Me!

Interest-Driven Learning…Immersive Experiential Learning, Project Based Learning…terms many educators use to describe ways to reach and teach students in and out of classrooms. The challenge is for most, especially for parents and kids, these terms are merely jargon with little meaning or value. And for those who use them, the degree of variance in implementation is broad and wide, and the impacts equally varied.

That confusion, coupled with numerous other challenges, has led the Samueli Foundation to take an innovative and disruptive approach to student learning, systems education and workforce development that has some extremely excited, and others completely bewildered.

The Samueli Foundation, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, the Orange County Dept of Education, Cal State Fullerton, and now seven school districts in the State of Florida, are implementing this novel approach…connecting student “Play + Passion + Purpose” using esports as the “Trojan Horse” to engage students. Yes, that’s right….esports!! And from all the IRB-approved research the Samueli Foundation has conducted, it’s working!

Imagine reaching students who have dropped out of the education system, or who see no value to it, or are simply going through the motions, or who see no real world relevance between the classroom and the outside world…these are just some of the many excuses or statements kids make today about their education. What if the student actually enjoyed going to school, had FUN with learning, developed skills that were transferrable across workforce platforms, and through all this actually envisioned their potential? To accomplish these goals, our system of learning needs to: 1) go where the kids are, 2) speak their language to engage them, and 3) find a way for them to enjoy learning and see its real world value. Yes…that is being done through an innovative approach using esports, and the results are profound.

The Foundation, and its partners, designed and developed a full four-year ELA based high school curriculum to meet all the California A-G standards, and aligned with CCSS, NGSS, CTE, ISTE and SEL standards. Really???? Yes, really!!

They beta-tested that with 28 high schools in Southern California in the spring of 2018. And based on the successes, submitted the curriculum to the governing curriculum body for the State of California and voila, secured approval! And in the ensuing months did the same for California’s 15 CTE tracks, and now offers all this to high schools and out of school time programs FREE of charge. They do so to meet their Foundation’s philanthropic mission to be innovative and entrepreneurial to ensure ALL students are provided an opportunity to thrive.

It’s called NASEF…the North America SCHOLASTIC Esports Federation (emphasis on “scholastic”), and now soon to be birthing a Florida statewide affiliate known as FLSEL, the Florida Scholastic Esports League. In less than one year, NASEF has taken its state credentialed curriculum and shared it in 39 states to hundreds of schools and thousands of students. They have designed a scalable system that provides curriculum, professional development, coaching and near-peer mentorships using a “Club” model where students can connect their “play and passion” (gaming and esports) with Purpose…the curriculum focusing on the workforce skills students need to succeed, all the time using esports as the hook and motivator.

This past week, Gerald Solomon, the Executive Director of the Samueli Foundation and creator of this innovation, and Kevin Brown, a CTE teacher with the Orange County Dept of Education in Orange County, CA, a gamer himself and the lead curriculum developer, came to Florida with the help of Laylah Bulman, a Miami-based educator, and Jane Whittaker, the curriculum specialist from St. Lucie School District, engage and train leading educators from 7 Florida school districts. The goal is to replicate and implement NASEF through a Florida-based affiliate now known as FLSEL. The Districts included: Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, St. Lucie, Jacksonville, St. Lucie and Volusia, to name a few.

The energy and excitement were palpable! And when NASEF shared the IRB-approved study results managed by world-recognized researcher Constance Steinkuehler Squire and her team, the proverbial lightbulbs shined bright.

Yes, esports, when coupled with a state credentialed curriculum taught by learned educators, does have value! Yes…esports and learning!

 


Gerald Solomon, Executive Director Samueli Foundation|Founder of NASEF and Laylah Bulman, Executive Director of FLSEL