Felisa Ford: TIME Innovative Teachers 2022
Felisa Ford has been a teacher for almost 29 years–she began as a social studies teacher and became a digital learning specialist for the Atlanta public schools in 2015–but she has always been focused on helping kids learn outside the classroom too. “My goal was always to empower students and give students the skills they need to be able to live beyond school,” she says.
When the Black Lives Matter protests began in the summer of 2020, Ford began working on a new way to teach students about social justice movements around the world–through video games. Ford and Ken Shelton created Good Trouble. This Minecraft-based world allows students to experience and explore different civil rights movements. As Congressman John Lewis leads students around the Good Trouble World, Malala Yasafzai, Rosa Parks, and other activists, they also take note of the various movements that they have been involved in and the goals they hope to attain. “It was so important to get these stories across so students could see themselves in the stories that we tried to represent in Minecraft, because if you don’t see it, sometimes you can’t even imagine what you can do,” says Ford.
This game is suitable for all ages, from third-graders to high schoolers. It consists of seven lessons that are independent and connected in one world. With over 3 million downloads as of May 2021, Good Trouble was Minecraft’s most downloaded educational world.
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“We just want to make sure that students know that there’s a story that is representative of their community, that we’re all in this community together, and it’s important that all of our stories are told and shared,” says Ford. TIME spoke to Ford about the future of teaching technology.
Was there a reason you decided to do this?
It [applied and was certified as a Global Minecraft Educator]My friend,, and me have played with Minecraft in our local district. After George Floyd’s death, during the peak of the pandemic I was emailed by Minecraft to ask if they could help me create content related to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The moment felt so raw because the event had happened only a few days before. Minecraft wanted to provide a platform for teachers to teach this material to students. It was a raw moment for all of us. This subject can often be divisive and no one likes to discuss it in school. Being a Black American mother, I felt it important to give my son a chance. This was something I had to do. It was so hard for us to bear the burden of this difficult task. We struggled to communicate our story and reach children. Minecraft offered a solution.
We had an idea of how we wanted Minecraft to look. The Minecraft team collaborated closely with the creators of the world. We didn’t want it to just be about the Black Lives Matter movement. We were aware that it was much larger than Black Lives Matter. It was even more than the George Floyd incident.
Ford has created Good Trouble in Minecraft, where students can learn about civil rights movements.
The name came about by chance. You are in good company How did it all come about?
Atlanta, Georgia is where I reside. John Lewis is a Congressman [served]The district where I reside. It was his passing that we were able to honour him. We also wanted to show respect for those people who got into trouble from the start.
How did you choose which activists or movements to include in your list?
It should be global and not limited to one time. We felt it was important to spotlight different activists from around the globe. The scene shows Congressman John Lewis walking along Black Lives Matter Plaza, Minecraft. Students also get to meet Malala, a Pakistani activist for girls education rights, and Nelson Mandela, a South African anti-apartheid activist. They get to meet Gandhi fighting for India’s independence. Dr. King, Rosa Parks. The U.S. Civil Rights Movement is our world. They are taken to Britain [to see] Emmeline Pankhurst fighting for women’s right to vote– though we made it clear which women they were fighting for at that time.
Oftentimes you don’t see people of color represented in some of these games. It was important for us to tell these stories of people who have contributed to society so that students can know not only if it’s for your community or my community, all stories are worth telling and should be told.
These lessons are what you see in the classroom.
This one world has 7 lessons. These lessons included classroom discussion. These lessons were made using historical materials, newspaper articles, and videos from Smithsonian Institute. We’ve set the lessons up so a teacher could pre-teach the content prior to the students going into the world because we don’t want the students to just go into Minecraft without any background knowledge of what these lessons were about.
We have a variety of activities that they can do after they’ve been in Minecraft. They take screenshots while they’re in Minecraft, and they write a reflection on what happened, and how we could apply it to wherever they’re living in the world. Students are encouraged to keep researching and have those discussions.
Teaching these social equity and justice lessons can be difficult for teachers, especially if they’re in an area where they don’t have students that look like me or may be in a different minority group. We taught them the vocabulary words. We were determined to give them all of the necessary resources.
Why is it so important to teach these lessons via a game console?
It is my goal to provide educators with the tools, content, skills and comfort they require to succeed in their classrooms. COVID made it crucial to be able rely on our teachers and students in order for everyone to succeed online.
My other goal is to always empower students. We wanted students to be able to experience this in a game-based platform so that they’re learning while they’re playing. The Nelson Mandela world has the same purple trees as South Africa. Students helped build the Malala School, which was destroyed by Taliban. We really try to make it real-world applicable so students can understand–and we have content and articles that they can reach to and learn more.
Was the reaction to this project?
It has received overwhelming responses. We were able to share a Minecraft video where the Minecraft team met with Pakistani teachers and learned the Malala lesson. They just were amazed and went on about how they’re still fighting for it and how these lessons help tell the story. And to see the impact of what you’ve created on not only educators in your country, but educators around the world, which is what we hoped it would do, speaks volumes that there definitely was a need for this content and that educators are embracing the good trouble.
The Minecraft team said it’s been the most downloaded world in the history of the Minecraft education site. We knew there was an obvious need for such content, and that it was available.
These lessons will help students to gain what you think they can.
We hoped that the students would have an open mind and be able understand others. If you have a friend that is being mistreated, it’s okay to stand up for that friend. This lesson was brought into Minecraft to show students how activists stood up and helped others. This lesson will help students see that there are many ways to support someone. These were not ordinary people doing extraordinary things. We wanted students to understand that. They weren’t well known when they started their journey but they felt a need and they did.
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