Students in Iowa use video games to hone key skills
By NICK HYTREK
Sioux City Journal
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CHEROKEE, Iowa — For many of us who are members of older generations, we might consider the hours younger people spend playing video games as nothing more than a diversion from doing something more productive, such as homework.
But talk to Tyler Hahn for a little bit, and he’ll tell you there’s much to be learned from gaming.
It might not be as measurable as an A on a math test, but as the sponsor of a unique program for middle school students in Cherokee, Iowa, Hahn has watched video games open children’s minds to career possibilities while developing skills that will help them in the future.
About a year ago, Hahn, a youth and special services librarian at Cherokee Public Library, received a national grant and set to work to establish an electronic sports team for middle schoolers at the library. Growing in popularity, teams in eSports, as they’re widely known, compete in tournaments playing various video games.
An avid gamer himself, the Marcus, Iowa, native was looking for a way to use the grant funds to teach college and career readiness to students in grades 5-8.
He surveyed them about their interests, hoping to find a common thread that would interest them. He’d throw out a topic, a few hands would go up indicating interest.
“I asked if any of them play video games. All their hands went up,” Hahn told the Sioux City Journal.
Hahn had found something that could hold their attention. But how, he wondered, could he use video games to foster skills he’d heard employers tell him young employees lacked — skills such as making eye contact, teamwork, showing up for work on time, communicating the need for time off.
It seems only fitting that he found an answer on the internet. While searching for ideas, he found a curriculum that uses video gaming to develop career readiness.
Thus, the library’s esports team was born.
“This is one of the things that’s really within their interests,” Hahn said.
Every Wednesday after school, eight to 10 regulars, sometimes more, show up at the library. Part of the time is spent playing video games. This is a team, after all, and Hahn is helping players hone their skills so they can do well at tournaments.
The rest of the time is spent using those online and gaming skills to help prepare students for the future.
Just how does playing video games teach kids any of those skills? Hahn shares a story from a lesson he gave the students about writing resumes and filling out job applications.
He had each student choose a favorite video game character, then list what games it’s in, what skills it has to perform in a game and how those skills are used to meet the game’s objectives.
“When they were done, I told them you just basically wrote a resume,” Hahn said. “It really takes that rather arcane experience to their level.”
Students have learned teamwork skills through playing, Hahn said. He’s watched kids open up and become more social.
And he’s seen some unexpected developments. He’s watched some students become storytellers themselves, writing story lines for their own video games and making drawings and artwork. Students have realized that someone has to write and edit the video game scenarios. There’s engineering and analysis involved.
“I’m seeing them transformed before my eyes,” Hahn said.
While Matthew Kriens and Henry James played games at a recent meeting, sixth grader Logan Robinson sat at a table nearby with a screwdriver, pliers and other tools, taking apart an old game console to see how each component works with the other parts.
“Tyler told me that he was going to do an esports team, and I decided to join because I use a lot of electronics at school and home,” said Logan, who’s interested in studying engineering and computer science in college.
Hahn said the group hopes to launch a short, self-produced magazine that includes gaming tips, artwork and more of the team’s creativity.