When students are so deeply engaged in a task that they can’t wait to dive in — and at the same time, they’re learning fundamental skills that are critical for their success — it’s a magical combination.

That’s what a lucky group of 20 students at Horace Mann UCLA Community School are about to experience as they take part in an innovative afterschool program. The students will practice and reflect on 21st century skills such as problem solving, communication, and teamwork as they compete against each other in the popular online video game League of Legends.

A partnership between UCLA and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), Mann is a public school serving students in grades 6-12. As director of the UCLA Community Schools Initiative, Dr. Christine Shen serves as a liaison between the school and the university. Her typical day consists of interacting with others and solving problems, and so she knows firsthand the value of these skills.

“When students move on to college or a career, there’s nothing they’re going to be doing by themselves,” she says. “There are very few careers where they won’t have to work with other people at some point.”

But getting kids to work well together isn’t always easy. “Our students come from home environments that might not be very nurturing,” Shen says, noting that Mann is a very high-poverty school. Many of its students have experienced trauma, and skills such as communicating and controlling their emotions can be challenging for them.

About the Author:

The former editor of eSchool News, Dennis Pierce is now a freelance writer. He has spent the last 20 years as an education journalist covering issues such as national policy, school reform, and educational technology. Dennis has taught high school English, math, and SAT prep. He graduated cum laude from Yale University. He welcomes comments at dennisp@eschoolmedia.com.