When Mimi Ito, Tara Tiger Brown and I started Connected Camps a little more than a year ago, we did so in part to deepen our understanding of how connected learning could power a mission-driven start-up. As educators and entrepreneurs we wanted to create high quality online learning experiences accessible to young people in all walks of life; as geek girls we wanted to do it in a way that was collaborative, fun, and hands-on.

We chose Minecraft as our core platform and now run a FREE multiplayer Kid Club server where youth (aged 8 to 15) can level up their tech and SEL skills. The server runs year-round from 12pm – 6pm PT daily and is moderated and staffed by trained high school and college counselors. The counselors host a variety of themed clubs and activities daily, including minigames, survival challenges, and build events. The server is supported by forums, which are filled with all kinds of free Minecraft resources, for youth, educators, and parents alike.

Last summer we partnered with LA Public Libraries to offer free programming for the young people they serve. The partnership was so successful that this summer we want to invite all libraries with an interest in Minecraft to have their youth join our free Kid Club server. We know there are a ton of wonderful programs being run at libraries nationwide that are connected learning aligned. Here’s a bit more on our approach:

  1. We are a freely accessible online learning community.

Our online programming is available all year round and youth can connect to our servers and mentors from anywhere—home, school, a library, or a community center. Our format means that we are a persistent community, not a one-time experience. Youth can continue to learn, grow, level up, and develop lasting friendships. Research shows that when we give youth the opportunity to develop friendships and connect with experts while building and problem solving together, the experience is transformative. Not only do they retain specific content and skills better, but they also acquire higher-order skills like problem solving, teamwork, and literacy.

  1. Our counselors embody our values, are tech-savvy, and have in-depth expertise.

Our counselors are genuine Minecraft enthusiasts who are also experts in coding, game design, engineering, and community moderation. Our Lead Counselors are university students studying game design, engineering, design, and computer science programs at schools like USC, Cal Poly, and UC Irvine. Our high school volunteers come from schools all over the country.

Beyond being helpful and supportive to our youth as they learn and create in Minecraft, our counselors provide instruction, mentorship, and models for professional pathways, like computer science, cinema studies, and game design. We train our counselors to support high-tech skill development, as well as 21st century skills like creativity, collaboration, and digital citizenship.

  1. We highlight the potential of authentic kid interests, enthusiasm, and joy.

We meet youth where they are—in their interests in socializing and gaming—but we direct this energy towards learning and real world challenges. Minecraft is beloved by millions of youth. Our counselors and programs help direct this passion beyond “just gaming” to problem solving, creating, and digital literacy.

Part of Minecraft’s draw is the ability for project-based and collaborative learning. We cultivate and nurture this into genuine engagement in STEM by connecting youth to both peers and mentors they identify with—research has shown that working in an intergenerational community around a shared interest supports youth in leveling up technical and social skills.

If you have a Minecraft club or program running at your library and are searching for a way to enrich your current curriculum Kid Club might be just the thing. We can’t provide any special support for your programs but you can take advantage of the free activities, forums, and curriculum we offer. And if you have youth of your own at home (or nieces and nephews) into Minecraft you’re welcome to sign them up, too!

Visit connectedcamps.com to learn more.

Katie Salen Tekinbaş, Chief Creative Officer, Connected Camps

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