Ashland High School teacher utilizes Minecraft to teach, inspire

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Every time we pick up a book, we do it: We visualize using our imaginations to create in our mind.

His mind is filled with imagination.

"There's a lot of ideas," Ben Spieldenner said. "There are a lot of ideas."

His students jokingly call it something else.

"Yeah, he's a nerd," Nivene Hutchins said.

Spieldenner, an English teacher at Ashland High School, said he'd be the first to tell you that his mind is a little different when it comes to teaching the curriculum.

"It's a little bit cartoon, a little bit mad scientist," Spieldenner said. "I guess my goal teaching has been to always meet kids where they are."

Three years ago, he had one of those ideas.

"Minecraft is the thing that I was looking for that I didn't know I was looking for," Spieldenner said.

To help teach his students, he uses Minecraft. It's a virtual reality space where people can create their own worlds and experiences by building off of their resources and creativity.

Students say they had doubt, at first.

"I didn't think that it would work," Hutchins said.

"I was shocked when we did [Minecraft]," Trevor Jackenheimer said.

How can a game help further storylines of classics like William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet or George Orwell's Animal Farm?

It sounds tricky. But, students say, it's easier than you might think.

"We do different projects based on those stories that we read in the Minecraft world," Hutchins said.

Hutchins is a senior. Jackenheimer is a junior. They both say Spieldenner's approach to learning is more engaging and fun.

"It shows there's many ways for you to learn about stuff and it's just fun," Jackenheimer said. "It makes it a lot more fun when you do it."

They take what they read and then create a world based off of imagination.

"[Spieldenner] is the best teacher I have ever had and the most inspiring and thoughtful and caring and absolutely the most compassionate person," Hutchins said. "And, [he's] one of the smartest people I've probably ever met in my life."

Fun while learning. Fun while teaching.

"It really allows you to make lessons more dynamic," Spieldenner said. "You have richer writing experiences because everything's immersive because the kids are in it. They're emotionally invested in what they're doing."

His teaching style is now what students had in mind. That's a good thing.

"It was nerdy," Jackenheimer said jokingly. "I guess I'm a nerd now because I play it 24/7."

After all, students say they are what they create.