FElisa Ford has been a teacher for nearly 29 years, starting out as a social studies teacher and becoming a digital learning specialist for Atlanta Public Schools in 2015, but she has always focused on helping children learn outside of the classroom. “My goal has always been to empower students and give them 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. With the help of her colleagues Natasha Rachell and Ken Shelton, Ford created Good Trouble, a Minecraft world that students can navigate to explore and experience different civil rights movements. In the game, Congressman John Lewis guides students through the world of Good Trouble, introducing them to activists like Malala Yousafzai and Rosa Parks while taking notes on different movements and what they set out to accomplish. “It was very important to get these stories across so that students could see themselves in the stories we’re trying to represent in Minecraft, because if you don’t see it, sometimes you can’t even imagine what you can do,” says Ford. .
The game, designed for children from third grade through high school, is made up of seven independent lessons in a continuous world. With over 3 million downloads as of May 2021, Good Trouble was the most downloaded educational world of Minecraft.
more than TIME
“We just want to make sure that students know that there is a story that represents their community, that we are all in this community together, and that it is important that all of our stories are told and shared,” says Ford. He spoke to TIME about teaching through technology and what’s next.
What motivated you to create this project?
me [applied and was certified as a Global Minecraft Educator], and have dabbled in the use of Minecraft in our district. During the height of the pandemic, after the George Floyd incident, I received an email from Minecraft, wanting to know if I could create some content about the Black Lives Matter movement.
It was so raw at the time because it had really just happened maybe a week or two before, and Minecraft was looking for a way to reach students to help them understand, but also support teachers with teaching this content. Emotions were raw for everyone, and many times no one wants to bring this topic up in the classroom because it can be polarizing. It was important for me, as a mother of a black son in the United States, to try. I knew this was something that had to be done. Our hearts were very heavy and we struggled with how to tell this story, how to reach the children. And Minecraft was a way to do it and receive it.
The Minecraft team worked with the world creative, because we had a vision of what we wanted it to look like. We didn’t want it to be just about the Black Lives Matter movement. We knew that it was much bigger than Black Lives Matter and that it was much bigger than the George Floyd incident.
Ford created Good Trouble, a Minecraft world where students can explore the civil rights movements.
How was the name born? good problem occur?
I live in Atlanta, Georgia. Congressman John Lewis [served] the district in which I live. He had also just recently passed away, and we thought it would be a good way to honor him, and also show respect to the people who have gotten themselves into good trouble early on.
How did you decide which activists and movements you wanted to include?
We wanted it to be a global representation, not just a moment in time. It was very important for us to highlight different defenders from all over the world. We have the scene of Congressman John Lewis walking in Black Lives Matter Plaza in Minecraft, but the students know other activists like Malala in Pakistan who defends the rights of girls’ education or Nelson Mandela in South Africa who opposes apartheid. They get to know Gandhi fighting for the independence of India. Dr. King, Rosa Parks. We have a world in the US Civil Rights Movement. We take them to Britain [to see] Emmeline Pankhurst fighting for the right to vote for women, although we clarify what women were fighting for at the time.
You don’t often 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 is for their community or for my community, all stories are worth telling and should be told.
What are these lessons like in a classroom?
There are 7 independent lessons within this world. Classroom discussions were incorporated into these lessons. We created the lessons using newspaper articles, videos from the Smithsonian Institution, and other historical documents. We’ve set up the lessons so that a teacher can pre-teach content before students go out into the world because we don’t want students coming into Minecraft without any prior knowledge of what these lessons were about.
Then after they were in Minecraft, we have different activities for them to do. They take screenshots while in Minecraft and write a reflection on what happened and how we could apply it wherever they live in the world. We encourage students to continue to investigate and continue to have those conversations.
Teaching these lessons of social justice and equity can be difficult for teachers, especially if they are in an area where they don’t have students who look like me or who may be from a different minority group. We gave them vocabulary words. We wanted to make use of all the resources they need.
Why was it important to create these lessons on a video game platform?
My goal is to give educators the technology and content, the skills, the comfort level, everything they need to be successful in the classroom. When COVID hit, it was extremely important that we were able to lean on not only our teachers but also our students so everyone could be successful on a completely online platform.
And my other goal is always to empower students. We wanted students to be able to experience this on a game-based platform so they can learn as they play. In the world of Nelson Mandela, we have the purple trees that you will see in South Africa. In Malala’s world, the students helped build a school that had been destroyed by the Taliban. We really try to make it applicable in the real world so that students can understand, and we have content and articles that they can access and learn more about.
What has been the response to the project?
The response has been overwhelming. There was a video that the Minecraft team shared with us where they did a full day session with teachers in Pakistan using Malala’s lessons. They were just in awe and talked about how they are still fighting for it and how these lessons help tell the story. And to see the impact of what you’ve created not only on educators in your country, but on educators around the world, which is what we hoped you would do, says a lot that there was definitely a need for this content and that the educators are embracing it. the good problem.
The Minecraft team said it was the most downloaded world in the history of the Minecraft educational site. That let us know that there was definitely a void for this type of content and there was a need for this type of attention.
What do you hope students get out of these lessons?
Our hope was that the students would be able to open their minds and gain empathy and understanding for others. If you have a friend who is being mistreated, it’s okay to stand up for them. We tried to bring that lesson to the world of Minecraft so you can see how these activists stood up for others. We hope that students learn the lesson that they can stand up for someone in many different ways. We wanted them to see that these were ordinary people doing extraordinary things. They weren’t very well known when they started their journey but they felt a need and did it.
More must-read stories from TIME