Jun 27 2023

ISTELive 23: Esports Leads Students to STEM Careers

Develop and support K–12 students participating in esports programs to help them realize their potential for science, technology, engineering and math careers.

Students won’t know what esports careers are out there without the right mentorship at the K–12 level. Kids play video games at home, but those are not necessarily aligned to the ways competitive video games are played in schools.

Speakers Chris Aviles, esports coordinator for Monmouth Beach School District and founder of Garden State Esports, and Julian Fitzgerald, executive director of Cxmmunity, reiterated this at ISTELive 23 on Monday in a session titled “Kickstart Esports: Learn from the Best!” Corey Gordon, a CDW education strategist, hosted and moderated the session, as the leaders presented the statistics encouraging them to change the face of esports.

“We realized that a consistent infrastructure for gaming and esports at the collegiate and the K–12 levels did not exist,” Fitzgerald said. “In 2020, under-resourced and underserved communities were already six years behind the esports STEM gap.”

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Bringing esports into their schools was just the first step for Fitzgerald and Aviles, who had a long road ahead when it came to changing the perception of esports and showing students the real value of participating in competitive video games.

Don’t Downplay the Importance of Esports for K–12 Gamers

Aviles emphasized the importance of treating esports, and the students who play video games, with the same respect given to other student achievements in athletics and academics.

“It’s crazy to me how we’ve talked about games and gamers for a long time,” he said. “People couldn’t wait to tell kids what a waste of time gaming was. Imagine how that kid felt.”

Instead, schools can help those students find lifelong friends and create a place where they can flourish.

“Three-quarters of our kids no longer play with strangers online,” Aviles said. “They team up and play with their friends they met in esports.”

These classroom and after-school games create connections for adults as well. Felisa Ford, co-creator of Minecraft: Education Edition’s “Good Trouble” world; Julie Mavrogeorge, CTE coordinator at Fresno Unified School District; and Anthony Casasnovas, ed tech program manager at New York City Public Schools, came together as panelists later Monday for the session “Coast to Coast with Minecraft Education!”

Ford, a self-proclaimed nongamer, admitted that she reached out to Mavrogeorge for help setting up a Minecraft tournament in her district. Working on that initiative brought the two school districts together.

READ THE INTERVIEW: Felisa Ford shares details about creating a Minecraft world.

“We wanted to share how California went to Georgia, and Georgia looked to New York. We’re all looking toward each other,” said Cari Warnock, CDW Education ambassador and session moderator.

Deirdre Quarnstrom
With Minecraft, you see pretty quickly that the player base is more gender balanced; the diversity of players is really astounding.”

Deirdre Quarnstrom Vice President of Education Experiences, Microsoft

Open Doors to College and Careers with K–12 Esports Programs

Supporting kids and their passion for gaming at a young age helps students recognize opportunities in STEM careers.

“Most of these kids have not had that mentorship. Nobody’s coached them up,” Aviles said. “These kids can’t be what they can’t see. If they don’t know the careers, if they don’t know how to manage their emotions, they don’t know how to turn very talented gaming into a career.”

He mentioned that the Garden State Esports program has sent players to college with full scholarships and had students who have gone pro. “I have every college knocking on my door.”

His students largely stay within the state to go to college, and they subsequently find jobs locally as well. He described his students’ trajectory from esports to STEM and cybersecurity careers in the state of New Jersey.

DON’T MISS: Inclusive esports arena helps young gamers grow connections and skills.

Aviles and Fitzgerald also discussed the esports arena that was planned for Philadelphia before the pandemic. The inclusion of an esports-focused arena, located in close proximity to the city’s other sports arenas, showed a glimpse of where competitive gaming is heading.

Paving the Way to STEM for All Students

Of the students in Aviles’s program, 40 percent don’t participate in any other school activities outside of esports. Four of the five students on his state championship team are first-generation immigrants. Nine of the ten winners of Casasnovas’s Battle of Boroughs were female. Mavrogeorge noted the inclusion of neurodiverse students among participants.

Esports has ways to level the playing field for all types of students.

When building the education edition for Minecraft, Deirdre Quarnstrom, Microsoft’s vice president of education experiences, noticed that the standard edition of the game was much more accessible to all types of children and more inclusive than other popular esports titles.

“With Minecraft, you see pretty quickly that the player base is more gender balanced; the diversity of players is really astounding,” she said. “The choices we made in bringing Minecraft into schools really focused on making sure that we maintained that gender balance and that inclusive approach.”

Quarnstrom also noted the importance of keeping avatars in the game, because studies have shown that students are more likely to explore and experiment when playing with an avatar. They’re less likely to fear mistakes, she said, and it can help students create an accurate representation of themselves for the virtual world.

See all of EdTech’s written coverage of ISTE 2023. Visit this page and follow us on Twitter @EdTech_K12.

Ivan Pantic/Getty Images

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