Page 7 - THE Journal, March/April 2019
P. 7

Students from Portola High School (Irvine, CA) on NASEF Community Day
Complete High School Maize has a seven-member Overwatch team that competes in the High School Esports League (HSEL), one of several new esports leagues that cater to high schools. The students practice six hours per week, working on communication and game strategy. Matches are held Monday evenings at 5 p.m. in the gaming lab, with the students competing online against another school’s team — and many parents and friends come to watch.
Already, Russell has noticed significant changes in his players. For instance, they are able to communicate more effectively — and their engagement in school is on the rise.
“Eighty-four percent of my esports players never did any extracurricular activities,” he said. “Now, they’re participating more in school, and not just in esports. Some of the students are also involved in peer tutoring or other volunteer activities. If we can just get them involved in something, they do better in school. Their attendance has gone up, and their GPA has gone up. It has been great to see.”
Common Concerns
The initial reaction that Russell experienced in proposing an esports team is common. Often, proponents have to convince other stakeholders that esports has real value for students.
One of the key concerns that K-12 leaders have about bringing gaming into schools is the violent nature of many of the games.
HSEL, which Russell’s school has joined, offers tournaments for nearly a dozen games, including some first-person shooter games that are rated “M” for mature. While Overwatch is a team-based shooter game as well, its characters are animated and the violence is cartoonish, earning it a rating of “T” (appropriate for teens).
“That’s where I draw the line,” Russell said.
When Aviles polled students at Knollwood School to gauge their interest in forming an Overwatch team, about 75 students in grades 6-8 expressed interest. But the school board had concerns about forming a middle school esports team around a shooting game. So,
Aviles formed a Rocket League team instead. Rocket League, rated “E” for everyone, is a vehicular soccer game published by Psyonix. Although far fewer students were interested in playing Rocket
League, Aviles is seeing a lot of interest from fourth and fifth graders who can’t wait to join when they reach sixth grade.
Another common concern is the gaming culture, which is sometimes perceived to be sexist — a perception propelled by
the #GamerGate controversy a few years ago, in which a female game developer was the subject of online harassment. But Aviles and other esports advocates say bringing gaming into schools is a perfect opportunity to teach students about empathy, respect and good digital citizenship.
“A lot of these kids don’t even know what they’re saying,” he noted. “They’re just parroting things they have heard online. Part of my job as a coach is to help them understand how some of the memes they are seeing are based in misogyny or racism. I think adults in general are doing a really bad job at helping kids navigate Internet culture. That’s a large part of what I do. I’m teaching them to think for themselves and to know what’s appropriate.”
Using Esports for Learning
Yet another concern is that students already have too much screen time in their lives. By making gaming a school-sanctioned activity, K-12 leaders are contributing to this imbalance, some critics say.
“One thing we have noticed about kids having access to gaming at school is that they play less at home,” Russell countered. “One parent even said to me: ‘My daughter came down and ate dinner with us for the first time in a long time.’”
What’s more, Russell has written a 140-page Gaming Concepts curriculum that addresses topics such as proper nutrition, screen time and mental health, as well as the parts of a computer and other concepts related to gaming. “It uses gaming to teach other skills,” he said. He has been teaching an elective course using the curriculum
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