Steve Isaacs has twice encountered epiphanies on his career path. The first came when he was taught game-based learning in high school, before game-based learning was even a thing. The next was realizing it was possible to make a career from mixing his two biggest passions: teaching and technology. Today, he’s built a classroom that paves the way for his students to have their own moments of inspiration.
“(I’m) interested in getting students excited about learning and allowing their passion and interest to drive the learning,” Steve says.
Despite his position as an authority on teaching Video Game Design and Development at Annin Middle School in New Jersey, Steve admits it’s the kids who are truly the experts. He sets the stage for them to create at will.
“It’s amazing what happens when I allow the kids to have room to be free and see what they come up with. When I’m able to sit down and learn from them and see the enthusiasm they have for explaining something they were able to do, it’s pretty remarkable.”
Steve says Minecraft, a free-form virtual world where players create their own adventures, is his preferred Microsoft accompaniment in the classroom, as it not only inspires his students to create things beyond his expectations, but allows them to be part of the inherently collaborative Minecraft community. Steve and his class share many of their creations, including walkthroughs and examples, on their YouTube channel.
“A great thing about Minecraft is that it does not come with a game manual, so all content related to the game is user-generated,” Steve says. “I love the idea of having my students contribute to the learning ecosystem by creating and sharing tutorials, empowering them to teach others.”
Having been the primary driving force behind the addition of ‘Game Design and Digital Storytelling’ as a subject to his school’s 7th grade curriculum, Steve is also happy to see a greater number of girls joining his elective class today.
“From a research standpoint, kids form their idea on what they’re good at in middle school,” he says. “I’m not saying that every kid should like or want to be a game designer, but if they are going to find out they are interested, I’d like for that opportunity to exist. I think it’s a crucial time, especially for girls, when it comes to computer science and engineering.”
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