Tigard after-school program embraces digital classroom, video games
In Pam Simons classroom in Tigard, there are a few simple rules:
No yelling, no name calling, a sign reads. No Trolling. No deleting worlds.
Simon is the co-founder of Fidgets2Widgets, a new after-school program along Southwest Sequoia Parkway that aims to give area middle school students a place gather after school.
The organization opened its Tigard space late last year, offering students a mix of physical activities, digital learning and video games designed to keep kids involved and entertained.
Simon and co-founder Sydney Ashland started Fidgets in Eugene in 2013.
The pair launched the company after years of struggling to find outlets for their own children.
I was a frustrated mom, Simon said. If your child isnt into sports, there arent many fun alternatives for after-school enrichment. When my boys were growing up, there wasnt anything about computers in the schools. Theyre starting to now, but its still not adequate.
Finally, we thought, Why dont we stop complaining and do something? Be a solution? So we came up with the concept. Its not just a class where kids come for an hour and leave. We wanted it to be an immersion experience.
Here, Simon says, children can do what they love: Learn and play.
The game is the curriculum
Simon says her approach is holistic. Students learn about strategy and communication through games like League of Legends, World of Warcraft and Minecraft.
Students learn everything from design to engineering to architecture.
The students also build virtual models and sculpt using the facilitys 3-D printer.
Simon calls her students Widgetarians.
We had a whole section on corporate branding, and had the students come up with marketing plans and logos and learn how to brand, Simon said.
Minecraft one of the most popular video games of all time, with more than 72 million players, according to the company is a big part of the operations curriculum.
Its a deceptively simple game, which allows players to build structures by placing blocks into an on-screen world and with no obvious goal.
Its like digital Legos, but more, Simon said. For kids who like to build brick by brick, they can, but because its digital, theres a component that teaches them about electrical circuitry, teaches about electrical systems, railroad systems. Everything.
That freedom allows teachers at Fidgets2Widgets to teach students just about any subject, Simon said.
You can recreate the Roman Coliseum using the game, Simon said. Were using the tools and resources of the game, and learning is a byproduct. The kids that love to build, they are future architects, the future engineers. Were not trying to adapt the game to our curriculum, the game is the curriculum. The kids still feel like they are playing it.
Simon loves her job.
Shed have to, to drive nearly two hours to work each day.
Simon started the Tigard location six weeks ago in the hope of bringing their Eugene model to the Portland area.
Weve outgrown out home in Eugene, Simon said. We wanted something that we could grow into. We plan to be here for a while.
The company has grown considerably in the last four years. The group has about 500 students participating in after-school programs at its 2,500-square-foot building in Eugene.
In the summer, we have wait lists, Simon said.
Its a problem Simon hopes to one day have in Tigard.
The popularity in Eugene stems group of organizations approach to learning, Simon said, which covers important topics in fun, engaging ways.
We teach digital literacy, etiquette, online safety all the things that could get them in trouble if they dont know, Simon said.
The trick, Simon said, is to teach children about being good citizens, without them realizing it.
Last week, the kids were learning about online safety, Simon said. The FBI has a whole site for kids to use that uses games where they have to choose which was the more appropriate phrase or information to share. And its presented in a fun and engaging way.
Taking a break, the Widgetarians and their teacher pull out foam swords and shields for a bit of swordplay, then its back to work learning about forensics.
This generation flows seamlessly between the virtual and digital worlds and the real world, Simon said. Theyre very versatile that way.
If kids come up with a game or lesson theyd like, they can make that happen, Simon said.
They are going to inherit the digital world, the digital economy, said Simon. Were raising white hat hackers, not black hat. We want kids to be able to perform in the digital world for the good of all, not cyber criminals and the dark side. We try to make everything engaging and appealing.