Educators put traditional spin on video games
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The Manitoba First Nation School System is encouraging teachers to leverage students’ love for video games and educate them about traditional teachings via e-sports clubs and classes.
Over the last decade, a growing number of school leaders both on and off-reserve have started using online applications such as Minecraft. By forcing e-learning into the mainstream, COVID-19 has made unconventional educational tools even more popular.
Not only are video games an engaging way to teach collaboration and digital literacy, said Karl Hildebrandt, but the education technology facilitator at MFNSS said they pair well with foundational Anishinaabe principles on conducting oneself towards others.
“Kids are video gaming and they need some kind of set of morals or standards to follow,” Hildebrandt said, as he prepared to give a presentation titled The Seven Teachings in the Digital Ageon Thursday.
Courage, honesty, wisdom, humility, love, respect and truth can be easily interwoven into lessons so students have a framework to learn skills critical for their success in online and offline worlds, he said.
Using humility as an example, Hildebrandt cited the importance of discussing “rage-quitting” and emotional regulation, being a supportive teammate when a peer is having an off game, and overall sportsmanship with students.
The theme of this year’s Circle of Knowledge conference, hosted by the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre (which oversees MFNSS), focuses on reviving Indigenous heritage with 21st century teaching strategies.
More than 600 attendees, many of them from rural and remote communities, gathered in Winnipeg on Thursday and Friday to network and listen to professional development sessions.
“We haven’t been teaching our children the old ways because of residential school experiences and loss of the language. We’ve started to go back to a lot of our teachings, land-based teachings and our general teachings,” said Charles Cochrane, executive director of the resource centre that organizes the annual event.
Cochrane said there is room for traditional and contemporary instructional methods so First Nations graduates understand where they come from and how to succeed in post-secondary education and the workforce.
Pandemic disruptions have resulted in educators adopting new technologies to deliver cultural, linguistic and academic lessons, he noted. “It’s a new era in how education is being done,” Cochrane said. “And it’s exciting.”
It was roughly five years ago when Vanessa Zastre said her students’ constant chatter about video games, and her son’s love for them, prompted her to pilot Minecraft Education at Chief Charles Audy Memorial School.
“Anything you do on the computer, they’re more engaged in,” she said, adding the virtual program, which allows for teacher moderation, has been a success in Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation, near Birch River.
Zastre recently completed a master’s thesis on teaching children aged four and up foundational coding skills at the University of Manitoba. Now the director of education in her community, she promotes the benefits of e-sports education to all of her colleagues.
Wuskwi Sipihk classrooms access online platforms via fiber-optic internet. Web access is still spotty in many communities, but the proliferation of Starlink has allowed more students to participate in gaming at school.
Hildebrandt is working with Fox Lake School to explore e-sports now that Fox Lake Cree Nation is connected to SpaceX’s new broadband network.
The MFNSS facilitator is keen to promote opportunities available through the Manitoba School Esports Association because video games appeal to so many learners, especially those who are not involved in traditional sports.
Eighty-nine per cent of Canadians between the ages of six and 17 play video games, according to the findings of a 2020 study commissioned by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada.
While acknowledging stigma around gaming being distracting and harmful due to excessive screen-time concerns, Hildebrandt said educators are in a unique position because they can leverage their roles to teach boundaries, time limits and balanced lifestyles.
Among the programs local teachers use are: Rocket League, Pokemon Unite, and Minecraft Education, including Manito Ahbee Aki, an Indigenous world based on Manitoba prior to European contact.