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6 tips for starting an eSports program at your school


The benefits of eSports are well documented. A large body of research has shown that students who participate in eSports training programs benefit from increased emotional regulation, academic performance, and graduation rates.

These advantages only scratch the surface of the positive effects for students participating in school eSports. Up until now, the conversation about eSports has focused on the collegiate and high school levels, but a recent shift in the wind has shifted the conversation to grassroots eSports.

my question: Why didn’t we start this conversation earlier?

I’ve come a long way from being a skeptic with a critical view of eSports in schools to a die-hard fan. In one year, I went from a teacher who didn’t appreciate the growing role of video games in schools to a teacher who is developing an elementary eSports curriculum, running several eSports summer camps, and starting an after school elementary eSports club.

I teach an elementary STEM class called iCreate in South Haven Public Schools. We are a small community located on the “Sunset Coast” of Lake Michigan. Our economy is driven by tourism and agriculture. South Haven, located in Michigan’s fruit belt, is the blueberry capital of the world. Our small community hosts the National Blueberry Festival every year and countless high school students work in the local blueberry fields.

My STEM class, iCreate, is part of our K-12 STEM continuum. At iCreate, students develop problem-solving skills through engineering challenges, collaborative research projects, and media creation. Although I have long been a proponent of game-based learning, I was (until this past year) skeptical of the role of eSports in education.

Summer 2021: Farmcraft Summer Camp

As the summer of 2021 approaches, South Haven Public Schools educators have been searching for the best way to address learning loss from the pandemic while keeping students connected to the only stable thing in their lives: school. Inviting teachers to design and host summer wellness camps seemed like a good way to connect with students in a way that isn’t available during the regular school year. I could design a camp without worrying about meeting standards, final grades, or grades.

After a year of distance and hybrid learning, the LAST thing on my mind was running a camp using any technology. I actually wanted to do a gardening camp, one of my favorite summer activities, but how do I get 10 and 11 year olds to sign up for a gardening camp? plants?

Enter NASEF Farmcraft 2021.

The commissioner of our local eSports league mentioned that North American eSports Federation released a Minecraft world for eSports competition called Farmcraft. Mission: Work together to farm successfully in different biomes. While many families in our community make a living from local farms, students have very little understanding of agriculture. Farmcraft will provide a great opportunity to engage students in science camp; competitive video game play would engage students, while discussing healthy gaming habits would engage their adults. An added bonus: I would have many opportunities to plant and study agriculture with my students.

I organized my summer camp around three key concepts: healthy player habits, global farming, and the life cycle of plants. Each day we explored plants through hands-on experiments, grew them in Minecraft, and stayed active with breaks.

On the last day of the camp, the head of the SWMI eSports League, an affiliate of NASEF, joined us to watch a friendly match. Students received team jerseys that were specially designed for the camp: shirts with our summer camp logo that represents Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, Healthy Relationships, Farmcraft.

Tip 1: Start, then fix

Like any new venture, eSports is something that takes time to fully understand. As the late Dr. Richard Dufour reminded teachers, we must be willing to “start, then get better.” The beauty of eSports is that there is a room full of experts who travel with their mentor. It’s incredibly powerful when the classroom is flipped and students have the opportunity to share their passions and experiences with their teacher.

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