As technology offers students more access to the digital world, teachers have to start thinking outside the box on how to prepare their students for the future.

King High School teacher Katherine Hewett is doing just that, but using an unorthodox but futuristic method.

“I use the game Minecraft to teach my students about 21st century skills,” she said.

That’s right, Hewett is using video games in the classroom, and it’s not as crazy as some may think.

“About five years ago, I was having conversations with my students about video games,” said Hewett, who is a career and technical education teacher at King. “I was listening to them tell me about how video games impacted their learning and as a teacher, this was an awakening. I realized kids were receiving an alternate education when they got home.”

Hewett said she started to ask herself questions about who was teaching and mentoring these students when they entered these virtual worlds.

“I was wondering why weren’t adults, teachers, not taking more of an interest and using this is as a tool?” She said.” Why weren’t they in those worlds with them?”

That was when Hewett decided she was going to integrate to virtual reality.

Her goal? To teach the students design, coding, programming and visual media so that they are prepared for the future.

And Minecraft came on to the market, Hewett knew she had a chance to make this dream a reality.

“Here was a VR space that visually looks like Legos and had sandbox features to build, create and design 3-D worlds,” she said. “I approached the administration about it and when I suggested it to them, they were all in! I remember, when we ordered the licenses they told us we were 1 in 700 in the country that integrated the game into a class.”

Since Hewett started the course in 2013, she has had students find careers in the information technology field working for big data companies or working on virtual reality projects of their own.

Hewett said the class starts with a theme topic.

“Each class agrees on a topic where they then start researching and begin replicating the build in Minecraft,” she said. “Students collaborate and communicate to create a really large size 3-D model.”

This year’s classes have different worlds as the game is integrated into all of Hewett’s classes. Some class periods are designing fantasy worlds like Mario World and Tron whereas others are replicating real life places like Alcatraz Prison and the Winchester Mansion.

Sophomore Brendan Fuller said taking  the animated course will open doors for him in the future.

“I’ve always been great with technology, but taking this course has definitely taught me a thing or two about animation,” Fuller said. “I want to use these skills one day when I become an architectural engineer. Learning how to create 3-D models now will benefit me greatly.”

Hewett said “Minecraft” has not just changed her students lives but hers as well.

The King High School teacher said as she was working on her doctorate, she focused her dissertation on her class. Now, her research on the “21st Century Classroom Gamer” has been accepted into the international journal “Games and Culture.”

“This course is everything,” she said. “I’ve learned so much with my students immersing myself into this gaming culture.”

Hewett said the animation course is a first step. She plans to take the next step with virtual reality soon.

“We don’t know what the jobs will be in the next five to 10 years,” she said. “So I’m trying to teach them all the 21st century skills they need to prepare them for jobs that don’t even exist yet.”

King High School teacher prepares students for the future with ‘Minecraft’