“What I learned from Video Games” By ‘Student X’

As I  mentioned in my previous post about unleashing a student’s inner super hero,  I work with a gifted student in high school who has been failed by the school system. Like many teen boys, he is very into video games. As adults, we often tell students that video games are useless in real life. After many long conversations with Student X, I realized that teachers should not dismiss them so quickly and instead, we should figure out how to use this to our advantage.

I understand where teachers are coming from as well. “Life isn’t all about video games. Not everything in the classroom can be fun and stimulating all the time.” I know how much time goes into planning lessons and it’s just not feasible to turn class into a video game.

So to start, there are a few things we need to recognize first. First, video games aren’t just about escaping reality and responsibility (although the fact that so many students feel they need to do this is a clear sign that education is not meaningful or relevant enough to these students).  These games create communities of like-minded individuals who work together to solve a problem (or defeat a Boss).  Here is how these communities helped Student X.

A bit of background:

  • Student X’s first played a game called “Defense of the Ancients” or “DOTA”.
  • Next was League of Legends
  • Third, was Overwatch
  • Some of these games are Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), also known as action real-time strategy (ARTS), in which a player controls a single character in a team who compete versus another team of players. Player characters typically have various abilities and advantages that improve over the course of a game and that contribute to a team’s overall strategy.

This following section was written by Student X

r892440_8977197Before DOTA

  • Little care was put into thinking before acting
  • Insistent on believing that any and all of mine own personal faults were caused entirely by other people and could only be fixed by other people
  • Under the belief that there was no human being capable of comparing to myself.
  • Working with troublesome people often ended in a very petty shouting match that often yielded nothing positive or useful

After DOTA 

  • Some semblance of humility was acquired as a result of the repeated, merciless failure I was previously presented with as the fruit of my actions
  • Arguments became significantly less common with me
  • A passable understanding of other people and what went on in their minds was attained
  • I also simply learned the game’s mechanics which made it much easier to adapt to similar circumstances in real life (to fully explain this I fear I would have to explain the concept of the MOBA genre of games)

After Overwatch/During League

  • maxresdefaultBecame quite clear to me that most all of my faults are the result of my own doing.
  • My partaking in arguments went from being uncommon to rare, as they were very commonly deemed by me to be pointless.
  • Ability to work with a team (while it was considered to me as a last resort) was much greater than ever it had been in the past.
  • This was also the first game I had ever achieved a significantly high rank in as my career high was amongst the top 8% of players. This was a clear indication of both my eye for strategy and my competence coming together.

Now (After League of Legends)

gamebox(Perhaps “Now” was a better header for this section but I figured “After League” would be more thematic)

  • Exceptionally capable of reasoning
  • Experienced in leading and/or orchestrating groups of people to attain a common goal
  • Arguments are avoided at all costs assuming I can see the advantage in doing so
  • Especially capable of effectively masquerading as different personality types in order to get on someone’s good side if necessary (Don’t know how beneficial it is to reveal this but I’m certainly interested in finding out)
  • Able to keep track of multiple people/things at the same time
  • Strategizing has become one of my strong suits which connects back to my ability to thrive in a leadership role (in spite of the fact that I tend to avoid them)
  • Putting together lists of variables and determining how they might interact with each other in a given environment/scenario.

So, to summarize, video games taught this student:

  • provided character role models and mentors (someone to relate to and look up to). These games have highly developed characters with detailed back stories. Check out these League characters for example.
  • intrapersonal skills: perseverance and resilience, how to take personal responsibility for his actions instead of blaming others.
  • interpersonal skills : leadership skills, negotiating skills
  • a sense of achievement (something more meaningful than say, acing a test on a subject you don’t care about)
  • Strategy: how to take into account multiple factors to tackle a problem (in context problem solving, not overly simplistic questions we often ask on tests)

So the point of this article isn’t to get you to make school more like video games. What we need to do is to create more situations where work together to solve a meaningful problems.  For more ideas, see the previous article on unleashing your student’s inner super hero.

For these students, playing games isn’t a distraction — it’s the lesson.

Read more: www.cbc.ca/1.4654087?cmp=FB_Post_News

Check out Scott Hebert’s Ted Talk here:


Unleashing their inner superhero. Adding meaning and purpose in education with the help of video games!

I work with a student who is in high school but does not attend any classes.  This student is bright, perceptive and capable, but found little, to no meaning in attending school. The subjects and skills had no relevance to what he was interested in or needed. It is through my conversations with him that the following perspective has evolved.

I find some of us are much better than others at “playing along.” Girls, especially, feel rewarded by doing what is expected of them. Therefore, many kids go through the hoops of education without getting very much in return except for a “well done” from parents and teachers. Nothing intrinsically satisfying though.

The difference between school and video games is that video games are purpose-driven, while school is a collection of random chores. 

Last time I chatted with “Lynx” we were talking about how students need to feel in danger in order to access to their super powers. Which inspired this meme:

Today, we were basically talking about how every person has an alter ego – a super hero. This is the person who plays make-believe or video games. A bad-ass version of ourselves. The person we imagine telling our boss where to go, or the person who saves the day when someone’s in danger. We all suspect that they are in there and are just waiting on the situation in which we are forced to use them: like the moms who pulled cars off their children.  The problem is, life doesn’t work like video games and therefore, our alter egos stay tucked away until we finally stop dreaming of being them.

Ready, Player One? This is what all kids dream about – playing the hero!

What I think education needs to do is to give children a chance to be heroes in every day life. No, don’t dangle a child off the side of the roof hoping one of your little super heroes will save them. I mean find something that the child feels like it’s worth fighting for. Maybe as a class you decide to write your local city Councillor and petition for a new slide at your park. Maybe you have pen pals in retirement home or in another country that you write to.

Instead, what we give students are the equivalent to chores. Add this. Draw this. Summarize that. We take the meaningful context away, so students don’t feel like any of it matters to their own life. The reason for completing these tasks is to avoid getting into trouble, not to accomplish something difficult. What if we phrased math questions as real life problems to solve – meaningful problems, not “How many bananas would be on each tree? type of questions”. Math is entangled with every subject and every atom! Watch this Ted Talk for inspiration and ideas.

The problem, of course, is that these are not tasks that can be completed in a “period.” These types of problems take time to identify and to solve. There will be lots of failure along the way.  There will be no exemplar or instructions to follow, often. These things scare teachers and administrators who want to know how to assign marks to tasks. They don’t fall under a single subject’s curriculum. How can we do this?

Just like we set aside time for genius hour, maybe the class sets aside time each day to work on it together? Community Hour? Start with questions. What do you want to know about? What problems are you not okay with? In high school, it should include things that relate to finding a career or developing skills that will be useful on a resume (or in an interview).

I haven’t got all the answers yet, but I do know making school more personally relevant and meaningful is imperative to kids well being, sense of self, and intrinsic enjoyment!

One last thought from Lynx, who is very involved in video games, was that these characters in video games taught him a lot about morals and values. (Check out these League of Legend characters with full backstories and meaningful quotes.)  In video games, characters can be healers, tanks (take a lot of damage), DPS (do a lot of damage). These help students identify and define their own alter egos. They identify with these heroes and help shape the hero in themselves. It’s up to us to teach them how to embrace this side of their nature.  To give them something important to fight for. Maybe a good activity at the beginning of the year is to find out which character they identify with, create their own personal version of this hero, and use this to inspire their future actions. “What would my hero do in this situation?”  Great for moral development as well. It’s so much easier to roleplay someone other than ourselves! I always tell students before they give a presentation to pretend they are someone else – that this is an acting assignment. This gives them permission to let go of some of their personal angst and insecurity and role play a stronger version of themself!

Maybe together we can brainstorm ideas of relevant tasks we have done with our students.  Imagine if instead of learning about global issues we brainstormed ways to solve them? What of instead of global issues we started with something closer to home? Community issues? School issues? Personal issues? Government issues? Environmental issues?

Please share your thoughts and ideas below!


Teach kids how to “think” and how to “create”

So I created this post for twitter based on an experience with a student. At the time, all I felt students were learning was how to re-phrase someone else’s thoughts.


Really, since we have all of the information we need on the internet, what should be be doing instead of instilling facts? Or how to copy the teacher’s exemplar? Try starting or ending your day with a class discussion.

  • Report observations or identify problems. . I noticed that…new students sit alone.  Boys tease a lot. Kids don’t flush the toilets at school. Teachers are grumpier at the end of the day. Why two students don’t get along. Trash in the courtyard. Why students are disengaged or don’t like certain subjects. ..etc..You could start with Peter Griffon’s question, “Do you know what really grinds my gears?
  • Ask questions? I wonder why?  Make guesses as to why the problem exists or why it hasn’t been fixed. It helps put students in the position of the person responsible for making the decisions (empathy, role taking).
  • Create new conclusions: I think this might happen because?  Making some educated guesses will bring a certain level of clarity to the problem.
  • Debate! One of my favourite activities to teach critical thinking. Pose a statement and have kids agree or disagree, but try to convince kids on the other side of their room to join them. E.g., all humans should give up meat. Kids should be involved in politics. All-year hockey season is a good thing.  Girls should dress conservatively.

Students are often surprised at how easy some of their problems are to solve. For instance, voice their thoughts or asking for something!

cooks or chefs


CONVERGENT TOOLS: Dot Voting/Dots & Super Dots & The Matrix

DOT VOTING/Dots & Super Dots

This is a useful tool when you have a large group of people, the whole class perhaps. Review all the ideas generated, possibly on the whiteboard or numerous pieces of chart paper.

  • Give each student a number of dot stickers. Everyone should have the same number of dots.
  • Have everyone place a dot beside a great idea.
  • Look for clusters with the most dots or “Hits.” The clusters with the most “Hits” are the options that should be worked on first.
  • Try narrowing the criteria even for the dot voting. For example, which idea would cost the least, be the easiest to build or implement, etc.
  • Another option is to give out dots but also one SUPER DOT, so students can converge on what they feel is the very best idea of all. Powerful critical thinking!


A matrix creates a systematic way to evaluate many solutions against selected
criteria. Use a simple rating system to show how well each idea satisfies each criterion
( scale of 1 – 3, or what about emojis!!) Once the matrix is completed and each idea
rated, you get a sense of how the ideas stack up against each other.


Adapted by Melissa Reist

Canadian Geographic – Classroom Contests

The beginning of the school year also means the beginning of Can Geo Education’s contests. This year, get your class excited about geography by signing up for one (or all) of our free contests!

Canadian Geographic Challenge
The Canadian Geographic Challenge is Canada’s national geography bee. It’s a great way to highlight how fun and diverse geography is. Sign up any grade 4-10 class this fall.

Classroom Energy Diet Challenge
Teach your students about energy using this fun and engaging program. Available to all K-12 classrooms.

Canada’s Coolest School Trip
This year, one lucky grade 8/secondaire 2 class will embark on an all-expenses-paid trip to number of Parks Canada places.

Visit contest.myparkspass.ca to find out where the lucky winners will be heading and register in September.

Finland schools: Subjects are out and ‘topics’ are in as country reforms its education system

Except from The Independent:



…Pasi Silander, the city’s development manager, explained: “What we need now is a different kind of education to prepare people for working life.

“Young people use quite advanced computers. In the past the banks had lots of  bank clerks totting up figures but now that has totally changed.

“We therefore have to make the changes in education that are necessary for industry and modern society.”

Subject-specific lessons – an hour of history in the morning, an hour of geography in the afternoon – are already being phased out for 16-year-olds in the city’s upper schools. They are being replaced by what the Finns call “phenomenon” teaching – or teaching by topic. For instance, a teenager studying a vocational course might take “cafeteria services” lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills.

More academic pupils would be taught cross-subject topics such as the European Union – which would merge elements of economics, history (of the countries involved), languages and geography.

There are other changes too, not least to the traditional format that sees rows of pupils sitting passively in front of their teacher, listening to lessons or waiting to be questioned. Instead there will be a more collaborative approach, with pupils working in smaller groups to solve problems while improving their communication skills.

Ms Kyllonen has been advocating a “co-teaching” approach to lesson planning, with input from more than one subject specialist. Teachers who embrace this new system can receive a small top-up in salary.

About 70 per cent of the city’s high school teachers have now been trained in adopting the new approach, according to Mr Silander.

Meanwhile, the pre-school sector is also embracing change through an innovative project, the Playful Learning Centre, which is engaged in discussions with the computer games industry about how it could help introduce a more “playful” learning approach to younger children.

Ms Jaatinen describes what is going on as “joyful learning”. She wants more collaboration and communication between pupils to allow them to develop their creative thinking skills.


Read more

Ontario teachers, what do you think of these changes?

GRIT! What kids need to succeed.

This was one of the first things we read in my grade 8 classroom. It’s a great introduction to the learning skills.

There are two parts to this lesson for the first week of school. I like to start with the Globe & Mail Article:

Why Kids need to fail to succeed.

1. Ask kids what they think about the title. Start a discussion on that concept.  Have you ever failed at something? What did you do?

2. Have kids read and highlight the article: Crash, Burn, Achieve – why kids need to fail

The article is a challenging read, but we broke it down into it’s core messages

  1. Grit = Resistance, persistence, perseverance, stick-to-itiveness, and passion. IQ matters a lot in terms of what your freshman GPA is, but graduating from college has much more to do with character strengths like persistence, perseverance and grit. It’s that ability to deal with setbacks, because in college you’re always going to have setbacks – whether it’s not being able to pay a tuition bill, or not getting along with your roommate, or failing a class.

    • In chess, no matter how good you are, you lose about half your games. And even when you win, you’re making terrible mistakes all the time. So you have to figure out a strategy for dealing with failure.
      1. QUIT: So there are kids who, when they try to play chess and start to fail, they just decide, “Oh, I don’t really care about chess. I’m losing too much.”
      2. GET DOWN:  And there are those who beat themselves up about it. Neither group does all that well.
      3. GRIT: But a third group, which Ms. Spiegel tries to develop, is made up of kids who take their failures very seriously but divorce themselves from it a little bit; they say, “Okay, let me actually analyze the mistakes that I made: What can I do differently next time? ”
  1. If you want to develop kids’ self-esteem, the best way to do it is to praise everything they do and make excuses for their failures. But if you want to develop their character, you do almost the opposite: You let them fail and don’t hide their failures from them or from anybody else – not to make them feel lousy about themselves, but to give them the tools to succeed next time.


Next, follow up with Angela Lee Duquett’s Ted Talk on Grit.

The Key to Success? Grit


I would follow up on this video with a free write: a time when you’ve failed, when things have been too easy, etc…

Take the Quiz

Do you have Grit? http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/back-to-school/grit-test-do-you-have-what-it-takes-complete-the-test-to-find-out/article4512454/

Set Goals

After this is done, I would lead into goal setting: for the week, month, year, 5 years, 10 years!  Tell them not to set goals that they THINK they will achieve, but goals in which they WANT to achieve, even if they think it’s too hard.  Perhaps that will be my next post, on goal setting.

Stay tuned!