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Super Mario at school? Calgary junior high offers video games in the classroom

WATCH: St. Ambrose school is the first in the Calgary Catholic School District to have a class about video games. Students use Nintendo Switches, LABO kits, Super Mario brothers and Minecraft to learn about coding, online safety, and explore new careers. It’s just one way technology is evolving the classroom.

A Calgary junior high school is offering a class that uses video games to teach important lessons.

The learning commons at St. Ambrose school in the community of Arbour Lake is filled with Nintendo Switch consoles, LABO kits and other software.

In a first for the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD), students can take a class that involves playing Super Mario and Minecraft, and the school says they are great tools for learning.

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“We are a fine arts school, we are a hockey school, and we try and infuse as much of the technology as we can to nurture the curiosity and engage the student,” Principal Raquel Alonso said.

“It’s to promote creativity. There’s teamwork because it’s not just one student stuck on their device, it’s them working together to achieve a goal.”

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Teacher Joe Rino came up with the idea after digging through some of his old classroom notes from a History of Video Games class in university.

“I thought if I can learn this in university, how can we bring this to junior high students?” Rino said. “Since they are playing video games at home, we can learn why they are even playing video games through history.”

Teacher Joe Rino came up with the idea after digging through some of his old classroom notes from a History of Video Games class in university.
Teacher Joe Rino came up with the idea after digging through some of his old classroom notes from a History of Video Games class in university. Global News

In the class, students are introduced to the history of video games from Atari to now.

Beyond that, the students learn how to code, build with LABO kits and talk about online safety. The class also exposes students to new career ideas, Rino said.

Nintendo has made its way into curriculum across North America and the U.K., and that’s just one way that technology is evolving in the classroom.

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Over the years, there’s been a steady replacement of chalkboards with smartboards, and textbooks with laptops and tablets. For educators, technology is about using a language kids understand.

“It isn’t just tech for tech sake, it becomes an opportunity for us to turn that digital distraction into some sort of advantage for students. Because they’re familiar with it — it is their world, it’s what they use — we’ve got to train them how to do it better and not just do all the negative things that come with it.” Kevin DeForge, the Supervisor of Education Technology and Fine Arts for Calgary Catholic Schools, said.

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The industry outside the classroom has had to adapt to the new digital landscape, too.

Nelson has provided textbooks to schools all over the world for over a century. It still does, but now it also offers tech devices and learning materials to 50,000 students across Canada, including five school districts in Alberta, including its Edwin technology.

“Anybody who denies the advent of technology in all walks of life, in my opinion, is being naïve.” Nelson CEO Steve Brown said.

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With Edwin, schools are given devices and online programming that students can use inside the classroom and at home.

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“It’s a fully online/offline experience,” Brown said. “So, when they’re in an online experience in a classroom they can work with learning materials, and once they are engaged with them, they are downloaded on the cloud automatically to their device — enabling students to work 24/7 on learning materials, to be able to take them home and re-engage with those materials, rather than cycling through a textbook.”

Brown says telling students to read some pages in a textbook to be tested on it a few days later just isn’t engaging for students anymore.

As for creating a class around video games, Rino says it is about leveling up and taking teaching and learning into the next generation.

“If they can do it here, and like coming to school and enjoy it, then that’s a plus.”

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