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C2C Digital Magazine Spring-Summer 2022

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Chris Aviles: "Helping kids learn...nothing is better"

By Chris Aviles (with Shalin Hai-Jew)

Chris Aviles is a STEM teacher at Monmouth Beach Middle School in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey, where he runs the renowned MB Makes program and Dolphins esports team. He is also the founder of Garden State Esports, New Jersey’s non-profit scholastic esports organization for students, run by teachers. Chris has won numerous teaching awards and has been featured in places like ABC News, NBC News, EdWeek, CNET, Scholastic, Times for Kids, EdSurge, Upworthy, and Tech & Learning magazine. He is the author of two books: The Edcorps Classroom and The Esports Education Playbook. You can always keep up with Chris on his blog

Teaching, STEM, and STEAM

How did you come to teaching?  

While I started out as a Chem major before switching to English, teaching is what I always wanted to do.

What do you enjoy about this work?  

Helping kids learn something they’re excited about. Nothing is better.

How did you manage during the SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 pandemic?  

It was tough. With the daycares closed, it was a balancing act being they’re for my students and my family.

Do you have lasting lessons from the times under lockdown and reopening and other challenges?  

Covid just reinforced the importance of prioritizing student social and emotional health before academics.

How did you come to teach STEM?  

As an English teacher, I always integrated a lot of tech. I also had the idea of having students run a business as a way to improve their literacy skills. The opportunity came up to teach the same way, but from a STEM perspective, so I jumped at the opportunity.

How would you describe the state of STEM teaching in your locality?  What about nationally?  

STEM to most is a buzzword. Outside of education, STEM is a box to check without really understanding what STEM is or should be. Robust STEM programs find a way to take students' passion and integrate STEM opportunities. STEM can be in art, literacy, and everywhere else. Just like students read and write during science, we need to better integrate STEM into other subjects. Teaching in silos isn’t helping anyone.

What are areas where we can improve in terms of STEM teaching?  

STEM teaching is missing context. We want students working on STEM projects in silos rather than as part of an authentic learning experience. For example, coding to code is different then coding to solve a problem for someone or something you care about. We lead with the tech too often, and not the why.

Do you do STEAM education, with art?  Please elaborate.  

Absolutely. It is easy to work art and design into all aspects of STEM when you prioritize the “user experience.” Whether running a business or working on an app, if you put people first, the aesthetics, look, and feel of what you’re doing quickly becomes important.

Esports:  Competitive gaming

What is esports?  How would you describe the pedagogical approaches used in e-sports in middle school?  

Esports (not eSports or  e-sports) is competitive gaming. During the day, I teach an esports elective where students use gaming to learn about digital safety, marketing, video and graphic design, and a host of other subjects and skills. Like all good teaching, esports is just a way to get kids to learn what we want them to know using something that they love: gaming.

What are the strengths of esports for STEM and STEAM learning?  What are some of the weaknesses of esports for STEM / STEAM learning?  Learning in general?  

Esports can be a great way to engage kids in STEM learning using a high interest activity. It drives students to otherwise try and care about subjects or skills they may not normally try or care about. For instance, using a spreadsheet to track the performance of your latest social media post, YouTube video, or Twitch stream is a lot more interesting than whatever the textbook wants you to do.

What do your students say about esports?  How do parents feel about esports?  

Students love being part of the esports team, and every seat is filled for my esports elective. Before the pandemic, esports was harder sell. After, many parents have seen how kids stayed connected with friends through gaming, and many even played games with their kids for the first time since there wasn’t much else to do. My community is very supportive of what I do.

The technologies of esports can be fairly expensive.  How did your school manage this?  What about ongoing costs?  

It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. My school made a significant investment in esports because esports is really an investment in STEM. The computers we bought to play games are also used during the school day to make games and work on other STEM projects. After school, they magically transform into the esports computers. However, through Garden State Esports I’ve helped start hundred of esports programs many at low or not cost. Bring your own device, donations, or getting started with something like a Switch or Xbox could bring esports to your school for just a couple hundred dollars. Esports doesn’t have to be expensive.

Where do you see esports going in the future?  What games? What skills?  What technologies?  What collaborative learning?  

I think augmented reality and technology that brings gaming into the real world is where we are headed. The same technology is currently being used to help surgeons practice on a risky surgery, for example. I think we are going to see a blending of the real world and the virtual world.

Social presence

You have quite a social media presence as the @TechedUpTeacher on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and elsewhere.  How did you come at expressing yourself broadly and with multimedia online?  (Would you mind sharing all the URLs to your various accounts?)  

Honestly, I prioritize sharing resources, things I’ve learned, and mistakes I’ve made. I try to provide pictures, videos, and templates as often as possible. My mission through social media is basically to say “Here’s what I’m doing. Try it, then come back and share how it went for you. Let’s learn together.” Social media is best when it is used as a community of practice, not as a platform for platitudes.

Who do you follow on the Social Web, and why?  

I follow anyone who is doing cool stuff. Like I do.  I look for people who are sharing what they’re doing and how it went, even if it went poorly. I look for people who want to collaborate on new ideas they have and start a movement.

How would you describe your “followers”?  What is your relationship with them?  How do you keep your followers engaged and interested?  

The people I connect with the most online are those doing the work. Teachers in the trenches, working with kids, and doing everything they can to engage every kid in new and exciting ways. Those are my people.

Where do you find inspiration for information and digital contents to share?  

Personal experience. I listen to my students, hear what they are interested in or passionate about, and I try to create lessons, ideas, experiences, and opportunities around them. I share it out in the hopes that others will do the same and we can all work together to make learning fun and exciting.

You as a person

What else should we know about you?  

If you’re doing cool stuff, I’d love to hear about it and collaborate!

About the Authors

Chris Aviles is a STEM teacher in New Jersey.  His email is 

Shalin Hai-Jew is an instructional designer at Kansas State University.  Her email is 

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