How one educator’s perseverance led to a student leadership initiative and the most popular Minecraft game of all time – THE Journal
Felisa Ford’s Student Ambassador program in Atlanta helped transform the district; His “Good Trouble” games are transforming the way students learn about social justice
Felisa Ford, co-creator of the most downloaded educational game of all time, didn’t set out to be a “poster teacher” for game-based learning.
She will tell you that she is not a “gamer”. She understands the skepticism of educators (and parents) when people start talking about the gamification of education.
And even as she walks a reporter through the Minecraft: Education Edition lessons now integrated into Discovery Education’s learning platform, she – or the game character she controls – jumps and stops, starts and restarts, moving awkwardly through the opening scene in a world M:EE called The Mindful Knight. The game teaches children things like self-awareness, emotional regulation, and other SEL principles as they explore this world and learn about medieval Europe and the Middle Ages.
“Now, as you can see, I’m no Minecraft pro,” she laughs at her avatar’s apparent lack of coordination.
Discovery Education launches a Minecraft channel
Discovery Education recently unveiled a new Minecraft: Education Edition integration into its learning platform, which means the hugely popular educational game can now be accessed from the DE platform without requiring any further downloads or installations, said companies.
Microsoft Innovative Educator and a Global Minecraft Mentor before the start of the pandemic. She had seen the potential of Minecraft to capture students’ imaginations and inspire them to learn all types of subjects. M:EE worlds are built around standards-aligned lessons for every grade level in subjects ranging from science, math, computing and coding to language arts, history, SEL, climate and sustainability, art and design.
But Minecraft was “slow to take off” with Atlanta Public School teachers, even after the district’s instructional technology team conducted several 1- and 2-day Minecraft Trainings with teachers in 2018 and 2019, Ford said.
A brainstorm ensued. How could they get teachers – usually reluctant to devote classroom instructional time to video games – to try Minecraft: Education Edition in their classrooms?
“We knew that if teachers just introduced the Minecraft platform to their class, the students would pick it up and run with it,” Ford explained in a post. guest post on Microsoft’s M:EE blog. “That’s when the light clicked for us: we flipped our Minecraft professional learning and let students be the leaders and train the teachers, and the APS Minecraft Student Ambassadors program as we know it was born! We wanted to make sure this program gave students – the true Minecraft experts – the opportunity to be the student leaders they wanted to be.
So Ford and his Minecraft-trained colleagues at APS launched the first-ever Minecraft Student Ambassador program; the ambassadors’ mission would be to serve as a “Minecraft expert in their classroom or school and be willing to support, assist, or mentor other students and teachers in using the program,” she explained.
And – as you might have guessed already, since his blog about it was featured by Microsoft – the Student Ambassador Program has been a huge success in putting teachers at ease about the introduction of M :EE in their classrooms and to show teachers how enthusiastically students have engaged with learning through Minecraft, Ford said. Two years later, M:EE is used in all subjects at all grade levels in the Atlanta district.
“We now have parents, students, and teachers constantly asking to join our next (Minecraft Student Ambassador program),” she said. “Making these ambassadors visible in the district and enabling them to function as Minecraft experts in their school has helped us champion the platform in more ways than we could have ever imagined.”
Microsoft has taken note of the success of the Atlanta Ambassador Program and launched its own global Minecraft Student Ambassador Sponsorship Program, an educator learning journey that prepares teachers, administrators, and instructional technologists to launch a student ambassadors in their own schools.
Ford said that near the start of the pandemic, every student in grades 6 through 8 received a device with M:EE already installed, “and we saw an increase in our overall middle school performance on the state standardized test. in Literacy and Mathematics” — a localized example of a university research host showing that Minecraft used in education improves student achievement and instills social-emotional skills that students have missed during COVID shutdowns.
One such study conducted by Canadian researchers in grades three to six concluded that “Minecraft can not only help students develop problem-solving and teamwork skills, but it can also increase their motivation…and has been shown to stimulate students’ interest in science and…learn about technology, teamwork and engineering,” the research report says. “So, in addition to exercising their creativity, users can inhabit a virtual environment to learn and use concepts that are more difficult to understand in real life.”
Become widely known for good issues
As a voter of the late civil rights activist, Congressman John Lewis and a college political science student, Ford had long been a Lewis follower; when she taught social studies, she took her students on field trips each year to the bloody sunday birthday party in Selma, Alabama, where they would hear Rep. Lewis speak about the historic events that took place there and his ongoing advocacy for civil rights and social justice.
In late spring 2020, days after the murder of George Floyd sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the country, Ford received an email from the Minecraft: Education Edition team, inviting him to help. find a way to explain what was happening to the students.
Ford and two colleagues, Natasha Rachell and Ken Shelton, met at the time.
They began developing the standards-aligned materials and content for an all-new collection of Minecraft games that would eventually be called “Lessons in difficulty”; Microsoft’s games division, Mojang Studios, provided help from its developers to turn their content into an interactive Minecraft world. The collection “aims to cultivate a strong understanding of inclusion, equity, and community as your learners develop skills in citizenship, critical thinking, and community building,” according to the Microsoft Blog Announcement the launch of Good Trouble.
The first game in the collection, also named Lessons in difficultyfeatures a non-player character representing Lewis himself, and it guides the student-player avatar through his own historical experiences and through the stories of other leaders of social justice movements around the world as he ‘they get into ‘good trouble’ and have a positive impact.
The teaching resources for this game and each M:EE game include items such as a list of learning objectives, guiding ideas and discussion questions, specific recommendations for teacher preparation, suggestions for differentiating learning for students with varying needs and abilities, complete downloadable lesson plans, recommended student activities, and links to external reference sites related to game content, which in this case includes the National Museum of History and Culture African American Women and the Social Justice Movement Collections of the Smithsonian Institute.
The following games in the Good Trouble collection focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, the American civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., characteristics of identity, the woman suffrage movement, Ghandi and the Indian independence movement, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala Yousafzai and her struggle for girls’ education in Pakistan, and the history of apartheid in South Africa.
Since the first Good Trouble lesson launched in late 2021, it’s been downloaded over 3.5 million times – more than any other Minecraft game – and Ford has become somewhat of a celebrity for its efforts. She has been featured in several Georgian magazines and regional media, and she was recently named to TIME’s Innovative teachers 2022 listing.
Ford told the Journal that she simply wanted to empower students while teaching them the history and context of current societal upheavals — and doing it in a way that helps them love learning.
“We want all students to know the stories of the activists around the world who got into Good Trouble standing up for the rights of others, and now they’re learning it all by playing a game and solving problems and even learning to code in Minecraft,” she said. “The platform almost inspires educators and students to make their learning and games bigger than Minecraft – we all want students to be able to apply some of the things they’ve learned in this Minecraft world to the real world. This is exactly what Minecraft: Education Edition does.