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[Mine]Crafting Connection: Using Video Games to Facilitate Youth Connection to the Outdoors

Instruction

 

“One of my go-to questions for students who seem to be less engaged with the group or slower to open up is,
‘do you play Minecraft?’”

.....

I began to realize the power video games can have on kids’ excitement and interest in learning while working as an educator for the Minnesota Arboretum’s youth summer camp program. One of the camps the Arb offers is called “Pinecraft,” where students play and explore in a forest while engaging in Minecraft inspired activities and tasks. The camp also requires kids to work together in small groups to build their shelters and gather all the ore they will need to craft supplies for the activities. I noticed that when students came in without knowing anyone else, this format provided more support for them to get to know others. I also noticed that students were enthusiastically and consistently engaged in all the activities.

In my experience working with youth, game excitement and relevancy to the outdoors extends beyond engaging in Minecraft based activities. For example, one of the most notable conversations I have had about video games was with a 6-year-old student while assisting with a different camp. After learning that this student has a Nintendo Switch, I asked them what games they like playing. They said, “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”, and I responded with “me too!” Little did I know that would lead to a, no-less-than, 45-minute conversation about the game and an in-depth visual demonstration of how this student planned to defeat the final boss using wooden blocks, plastic frogs, Legos, and tree cookies.

.....

Kristina1

 

For the last 9 months, I have been working with groups of 4th and 5th graders at a 4-day school overnight program. Every group I meet has different interests, prior environmental knowledge, comfort levels being outdoors, energies, and overall group dynamics. However, one common trend I have noticed amongst many students – particularly students who seem to have challenges building relationships with their peers in the field group – is their knowledge and excitement about video games. One of my go-to questions for students who seem to be less engaged with the group and/or slower to open up is, “do you play Minecraft?” Most of the time the student I asked will respond with “yes” and then proceed to tell me about their experiences playing as I ask more questions. Oftentimes, I will ask for advice on my own game play, in the hopes of giving them the opportunity to see themselves as experts of something they feel passionate about.

Video games are often seen at odds to outdoor play and environmental learning. While there are many benefits to limiting video game time, for youth especially, I also recognize that it is unrealistic to expect kids and their parents to revert back to a screen-free and, to some extent, screen-limited environment. I believe that there is an opportunity to take advantage of kids’ love for video games and to use it as a foundation for outdoor exploration and play. As an educator, I want to make space for students to use the knowledge they have gained from playing video games and help them connect it to the natural environments around them and their interactions with others. I do this with the hope that practicing making these connections will help them form more on their own down the road as they continue to play video games and play outside.

Below are a some of the benefits of connecting students’ prior knowledge of video games with outdoor exploration and education:

  1. Relationship Building.
    More times than not, I find that discussing video games with students who play opens an opportunity for me to build a relationship with that student. It allows me to humanize myself and find common ground with students in a short amount of time. Additionally, learning about the types of games kids enjoy can help me better understand some of their interests and vice versa.
    Students also have the chance to build stronger relationships with their peers when discussing video games. Non- “educational” video games are not played at school and are therefore not something that are necessarily talked about while students are in classes. However, when students are prompted to talk about their favorite games, they may learn that one of their peers loves that same game and give them something to talk about in the future.

  2. Empowering Students’ Ways of Knowing
    Depending on the video game, they require strategy, understanding the world, and knowing the game mechanics to play. Students are absorbing so much knowledge about the games they play and are only applying it to the game. However, as educators we can support the extensive knowledge, they have gained through video games and encourage them to use it while learning.

    For example, Minecraft worlds contain many types of ecosystems and as kids play the game, they learn about which species are found where, weather patterns, and possible topography. By reminding students who play Minecraft, for example, that they already have knowledge in ecosystems, they can build upon that knowledge rather than starting from scratch. They can also help teach their peers who maybe do not have the same video game experience.

  3. Introducing Fun Ways to Interact with the Natural Environment
    Gamifying outdoor exploration using video game frameworks – world building, skill building, levels, and checkpoints, etc. – can be a fun and exciting way to encourage student engagement outdoors. For example, instead of tasking students with simply building survival shelters, there could be added video game inspired structure. For example, in order to access the forest to begin foraging for sticks, students have to complete a team building challenge of some sort. Then, before students begin building, they must have found a certain number of sticks of certain sizes. Maybe there is string available, but students need to find 10 spider webs and point them out before they can “buy” some.
    That said, even having casual conversations comparing phenomena and elements found outside to ones found in video games can be a way to make learning about the outdoors feel more relevant to students’ interests.

Video games and environmental education do not have to be mutually exclusive. The illusion that they are at odds with each other can discourage kids who love video games from spending time playing and exploring the outdoors. As educators, we have the opportunity to validate students’ passion for video games and support student connection making between their favorite games and environmental learning.

 

 

 

 

“One of my go-to questions for students who seem to be less engaged with the group or slower to open up is,
‘do you play Minecraft?’”

.....

I began to realize the power video games can have on kids’ excitement and interest in learning while working as an educator for the Minnesota Arboretum’s youth summer camp program. One of the camps the Arb offers is called “Pinecraft,” where students play and explore in a forest while engaging in Minecraft inspired activities and tasks. The camp also requires kids to work together in small groups to build their shelters and gather all the ore they will need to craft supplies for the activities. I noticed that when students came in without knowing anyone else, this format provided more support for them to get to know others. I also noticed that students were enthusiastically and consistently engaged in all the activities.

In my experience working with youth, game excitement and relevancy to the outdoors extends beyond engaging in Minecraft based activities. For example, one of the most notable conversations I have had about video games was with a 6-year-old student while assisting with a different camp. After learning that this student has a Nintendo Switch, I asked them what games they like playing. They said, “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”, and I responded with “me too!” Little did I know that would lead to a, no-less-than, 45-minute conversation about the game and an in-depth visual demonstration of how this student planned to defeat the final boss using wooden blocks, plastic frogs, Legos, and tree cookies.

.....

Kristina1

 

For the last 9 months, I have been working with groups of 4th and 5th graders at a 4-day school overnight program. Every group I meet has different interests, prior environmental knowledge, comfort levels being outdoors, energies, and overall group dynamics. However, one common trend I have noticed amongst many students – particularly students who seem to have challenges building relationships with their peers in the field group – is their knowledge and excitement about video games. One of my go-to questions for students who seem to be less engaged with the group and/or slower to open up is, “do you play Minecraft?” Most of the time the student I asked will respond with “yes” and then proceed to tell me about their experiences playing as I ask more questions. Oftentimes, I will ask for advice on my own game play, in the hopes of giving them the opportunity to see themselves as experts of something they feel passionate about.

Video games are often seen at odds to outdoor play and environmental learning. While there are many benefits to limiting video game time, for youth especially, I also recognize that it is unrealistic to expect kids and their parents to revert back to a screen-free and, to some extent, screen-limited environment. I believe that there is an opportunity to take advantage of kids’ love for video games and to use it as a foundation for outdoor exploration and play. As an educator, I want to make space for students to use the knowledge they have gained from playing video games and help them connect it to the natural environments around them and their interactions with others. I do this with the hope that practicing making these connections will help them form more on their own down the road as they continue to play video games and play outside.

Below are a some of the benefits of connecting students’ prior knowledge of video games with outdoor exploration and education:

  1. Relationship Building.
    More times than not, I find that discussing video games with students who play opens an opportunity for me to build a relationship with that student. It allows me to humanize myself and find common ground with students in a short amount of time. Additionally, learning about the types of games kids enjoy can help me better understand some of their interests and vice versa.
    Students also have the chance to build stronger relationships with their peers when discussing video games. Non- “educational” video games are not played at school and are therefore not something that are necessarily talked about while students are in classes. However, when students are prompted to talk about their favorite games, they may learn that one of their peers loves that same game and give them something to talk about in the future.

  2. Empowering Students’ Ways of Knowing
    Depending on the video game, they require strategy, understanding the world, and knowing the game mechanics to play. Students are absorbing so much knowledge about the games they play and are only applying it to the game. However, as educators we can support the extensive knowledge, they have gained through video games and encourage them to use it while learning.

    For example, Minecraft worlds contain many types of ecosystems and as kids play the game, they learn about which species are found where, weather patterns, and possible topography. By reminding students who play Minecraft, for example, that they already have knowledge in ecosystems, they can build upon that knowledge rather than starting from scratch. They can also help teach their peers who maybe do not have the same video game experience.

  3. Introducing Fun Ways to Interact with the Natural Environment
    Gamifying outdoor exploration using video game frameworks – world building, skill building, levels, and checkpoints, etc. – can be a fun and exciting way to encourage student engagement outdoors. For example, instead of tasking students with simply building survival shelters, there could be added video game inspired structure. For example, in order to access the forest to begin foraging for sticks, students have to complete a team building challenge of some sort. Then, before students begin building, they must have found a certain number of sticks of certain sizes. Maybe there is string available, but students need to find 10 spider webs and point them out before they can “buy” some.
    That said, even having casual conversations comparing phenomena and elements found outside to ones found in video games can be a way to make learning about the outdoors feel more relevant to students’ interests.

Video games and environmental education do not have to be mutually exclusive. The illusion that they are at odds with each other can discourage kids who love video games from spending time playing and exploring the outdoors. As educators, we have the opportunity to validate students’ passion for video games and support student connection making between their favorite games and environmental learning.

 

 

 

About the Author
Kristina Linder

Kristina Linder is a Master of Education candidate at the University of Washington pursuing a degree in Instruction & Curriculum. Her undergraduate background is in environmental studies, and she has experience working with youth in outdoor education. She has a special interest in integrating technology into informal and outdoor education settings.