High-Level of Innovation – Hopatcong School District - Starts eSports Pilot Program

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With remote learning entering its third-month the Teachers and Administration at the Hopatcong School District continue to find new and exciting ways to engage and keep the attention of the students.

The latest example of this out-of-the-box thinking is the launch of a pilot eSports program coming from Mr. James McKowen who teaches STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) at Hopatcong Middle and High Schools.

Mr. McKowen has been with the Hopatcong School District for over six years and has a background in semi-professional gaming. “I knew that utilizing the games that kid’s already play would be instrumental in gaining the kid’s attention, expanding the social experience, and would help with the STEAM educational process.”

James McKowen        Teacher James McKowen“Beyond the social and emotional benefits, eSports teaches the successful use of STEAM in how to plan for success, as the team of students needs to research how to use technology, math, geometry and so many other areas of learning. I always true to ensure learning is unique, authentic, and meaningful for the students.”

Project co-founder Mr. Joseph S. Piccirillo, Assistant Superintendent at Hopatcong School District sought to start the club as a means to put out feelers for the possibility of an eSports League the district. provided his reasoning.

“eSports and gaming are becoming more and more popular with students. For us, now is the perfect time to start, because It is a way for students to engage with one another and form social connections which they are in desperate need of considering that schools have been closed. This club will help students feel connected to each other, their teacher, and their school, and I think it will have a tremendous positive impact on the social and emotional wellbeing of our students.”

Pilot Project Launched:

The eSports pilot project formed as a club will be called “Rocket League”, and registration has launched this week for the Hopatcong School District grades 6 – 12. Students interested can contact Mr. Jim McKowen at jmckowen@hopatcongschools.org. The teams will then spend the next several weeks holding evening exhibition matches, where the teams will build their level of play using STEAM practices.

Exhibition matches will be recorded for all teams to review on how the other student teams are using the major elements of STEAM to play the game. All of this will lead up to the Final Matches that are planned in June before the end of the school year.

“I’ve been in contact with several local businesses and we are working on putting together a prize package for the kids.” Stated Mr. McKowen

The Selected Game: ROCKET LEAGUE

The game selected for this pilot project is called Rocket League where students will use rocket-powered vehicles to hit a ball into their opponent's goal and score points over the course of a match. It features a competitive game mode based on teamwork and outmaneuvering opponents. Students will work within their team to advance the ball down the field, and score goals in their opponents' net.

The game works on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, macOS, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh operating systems. There is a small cost for the game of about $20.00, but no other costs to the program made possible by a partnership and Special Olympics Play Unified Grant.

For more information on Rocket League, visit rocketleague.com

To Enroll in the Program: Email jmckowen@hopatcongschools.org

Beyond the Pilot Project:

During this first week of enrollment, 63 students have signed up for the eSports program. “this is about double the number I was expecting.” Stated Mr. McKowen, “While this pilot program was for the end of the school year, based upon the high level of interest from the students this could continue into the summer and evolve into something more permanent in the Fall.  

Besides teaching STEAM courses Mr. McKowen also runs the STEAM Innovators Club, Games Club and will now be seeking to help students learn through eSports.

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