How do you replace school during a global pandemic? That’s the question that’s been on every teacher’s lips for the past year, and we seem no closer to an answer than when schools first closed in many countries across the world.
Online learning is one thing, but when many children share a computer with the rest of their family – including other siblings – or have unreliable internet connections, it can be difficult to achieve the same quality of education remotely. Keeping children engaged with classes is more difficult than ever, so one US teacher decided to start streaming games with his students to keep them involved.
Chase ‘Nordman’ Nordman – known as Mr Nordman to his fifth-grade students – has always played games. He first incorporated gaming into his schoolwork a few years ago, as an incentive for students to concentrate and behave. “We would do a lunch group every day with the Switch,” he tells The Loadout. “We would play Smash Brothers together – they would bring their own controllers and stuff – and I knew that that was something that a lot of kids looked forward to.”
However, when the pandemic hit and Nordman’s science and social studies lessons were taken online, all lunchtime clubs were off the cards too. “Coronavirus took all that away,” he says. As a replacement, he started playing Among Us with his class remotely. The students responded positively to his online version of their games club, but often pestered him to add them on Fortnite so they could play the battle royale game together. Eventually, he relented.
“I played some other games seriously that I don’t stream because they’re violent or adult. But I really got into nailing down the mechanics of all their games, like Fortnite, Among Us, and Roblox – and I’ve become fans of all those. I don’t even play the other games that I have on my PlayStation any more.”
They're turning things in more and participating more
Nowadays, when school finishes, Nordman squads up with the first three kids who ask, loads up YouTube, and streams their gameplay. “They carry me,” he freely admits. Mostly their streams involve dropping into battle royale mode, but after a few games they switch to Team Rumble or creative modes – and that’s where the schoolkids really come into their own. “I’m not as good as they are. So we ended up doing some free-for-alls and I’m just like dying every second but they’re having the time of their lives. That’s all that matters.”
However, Nordman makes sure to separate the students’ learning from their playtime. “I really separate the gaming from class time because I want them to see that they can work hard and play video games,” he says. Any mention of Slurpy Swamp or Dirty Docks during school hours is immediately dismissed, but once the bell rings at the end of the day, it’s all fair game.
Nordman notices that his streams have had a profound impact on his students’ performance and participation, too. “Their performance has really improved in the classroom,” explains Nordman. “They’re turning things in more and participating more, answering questions in class – getting kids to participate online has been really difficult.”
He believes that building a strong relationship with his students is key to encouraging participation and motivating them to perform better in the classroom. Pre-pandemic, he would do this with lunchtime clubs and in-person gaming sessions, but at the moment the best alternative is streaming. It’s not just Fortnite, either, as the class also hops into a Minecraft server to work on a huge city they’re building together.
“I really fell in love with Minecraft because I didn’t realize how simple the creative mode could be,” says Nordman. “I thought it was more about the survival mode, but now that I know you can just build like you’re building with LEGO. It’s dope. I love that game.”
Online gaming is something that the whole class enjoys together – regardless of gender – and he’s happy to foster a spirit and community vibe which, in turn, aids the students’ performance and engagement with their online education. Despite admitting that the students still carry him to victories in Fortnite, Nordman is enjoying learning new games and feels he is genuinely improving, especially at the battle royale game. And, ultimately, he believes that the reason his students get so much out of their gaming sessions is because of the fact that he is a self-confessed noob.
“I like that we switch roles at four o’clock,” says Nordman, “they become the teachers and I’m the student.”