Student computer club may change worlds, including this one


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Viera Charter School MinecraftEdu Club member Isaiah Tadrous, right, receives instruction from club founder Slayde Kerner, future leader Seville Kerner and parent-volunteer coordinator Susan Sears on the first day of intermediate club.

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Most parents are dismayed that their kids want to play video games every available moment. Instead, Susan Sears harnessed her children’s keyboards like workhorses to plow through tough topics like science, math, engineering and technology ― known as STEM.

Her children, Slayde and Seville Kerner, started the state’s first after-school, student-run computer club at Viera Charter School, using the super-popular video game Minecraft. Called MinecraftEdu, the game is specifically modified for use in school clubs and classrooms.

“I hope this will continue to grow into use in the classrooms, as this is the way kids can learn STEM and really enjoy it,” said Slayde, an eighth-grader who will hand the reins to his sixth-grader sister Seville upon graduation. The K-8 private charter school specializing in STEM is available to any child. Tuition is paid with public school dollars, but the school is governed by its own board.

The launch of the club had its beginnings in gamer legend.

Slayde competed at the 2012 Minecon convention in Orlando and won awards on stage from among the 75,000 attendees. Slayde’s win enabled him to meet Minecraft creator Markus Persson, known by his nickname ― all great gamers have one ― Notch. The Swedish gamer god autographed an Xbox 360 game system and gave it to Slayde.

He also met with the Mojang team, the Swedish company that built out Persson’s concept and placed the game at the fingertips of virtually every computer-literate youth in the world since its launch in 2011. The experience gave the teen wings to overcome obstacles to achieve his goals, with his mother’s help. 

Sears met with Dr. Aldo Fabrigas, head of engineering at Florida Institute of Technology, who agreed to write the computer code required to install the game software, and much more.

“He also agreed to connect the college with VCS to start a mentor relationship between schools,” Sears said. “He will be teaching computer coding, programming basics and Java in the intermediate MinecraftEdu club. This is the start of a mentor relationship between schools to define STEM and computer science.”

The effort stumbled when it was discovered that the school’s lab computers could not handle the software. Fabrigas then wrote a proposal to the school board that resulted in the funding of new computers for the club with special video cards required to run the intricate visuals.

“We are thankful to him but of course also the school board, staff and principal Dr. Julie Cady,” Sears said, listing each person involved.

Minecraft has set the gamer world ablaze because it includes so many child-favorite features also popular with adults. Its creative and building aspects allow players to build entire worlds out of textured cubes, add “skins” to characters, use maps made by other players and ultimately, to create their own games and play with friends online across the street or across the globe. Unlike many video games, it is equally embraced by both males and females, like Seville.

“I love working on the club, making the activities every week. We can create things like building contests and redstone,” she added, referring to the newly developed Minecraft equivalent of electricity. It can be used to create inventions, such as working computers or factories.

If it sounds like the club could be the source of child billionaires who have learned to write code and create and popularize new games, or a leaping shift in the way businesses are started and built, it is.

“I’d say the sky is the limit, but in Minecraft, the sky is no longer a limit,” said Sears, who encourages her children’s independence and entrepreneurial spirit and believes in giving them the tools and resources to turn an interest into a passion that becomes a reality.

Business and government have increased the focus on STEM education and activities as the potential future savior of U.S. economic leadership.

Higher education is already knocking on Slayde’s door as the family considers options for high school and beyond.

“One of the school reps was really impressed by a student starting a STEM program in a school, so I think that will make a big difference having that on his resume,” Sears said. “They’re not looking for geniuses. They are looking for kids inspired to change the world.”

For more information on the VCS computer club, call the school at 321-541-1434.