Skip to Main Content

Doctoral student inspires youth with innovative game-based learning

Nadine Ebri Minecraft HeadshotThe process of shaping young minds is both challenging and rewarding. For UNF doctoral student and accomplished educator Nadine Ebri, it’s a process she enjoys to the fullest. “There’s a lot I like about being an educator,” says Ebri. “Seeing how kids’ lives can transform based on the efforts that I put in is one of the things I really love most about teaching.”

The Palm Bay native was recently recognized by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) as one of their "20 to Watch" award winners for 2023. She was recognized for her dedication to expanding computer science access to historically marginalized students and managing the world's first Minecraft Lab located at Springfield Middle School in Downtown Jacksonville. In addition, she initiated a Minecraft Student Ambassador program at the school, where student ambassadors assisted teachers in employing Minecraft Education as a teaching tool. Students in this program actively engaged with the community, leading activities such as professional development sessions for district specialists, parent coding nights to instruct parents in coding skills and community event appearances to promote coding within the community.

Minecraft Education takes the popular block building adventure video game and has features built specifically for learning environments to support STEM, coding, SEL, history, language arts, 21st century skills and more. This game allows for students from all backgrounds and abilities to engage in a fun and inclusive learning environment.

Set to become a three-time Osprey, she obtained a bachelor's degree in elementary education from UNF in 2013 and returned back to the nest to achieve a master's in educational leadership in 2018. Two years later, she embarked on the ambitious path of pursuing a doctorate through UNF's Educational Leadership Program. She's scheduled to grace the UNF stage once more at the fall commencement in December. This fall she is working on the finalization of her dissertation, focusing on the professional development of teachers through the utilization of digital game-based learning in the classroom.

While she loves to learn new things, Ebri credits her instructors for helping her succeed in her academic journey. “The biggest factor that contributed to me having success at UNF was the supportive staff and my professors,” said Ebri. “I’ve had professors who really encouraged me.”

That encouragement led to success in her teaching career also. After finishing her undergraduate studies, she began teaching in Duval County, where she taught grade levels from kindergarten to eighth grade. As a teacher, Ebri says she always asks her students how they want to learn and proceeds to adjust her instructional practices based on their feedback. One particular year, her students wanted to include rapping, dancing and singing in their lessons. The class had so much fun during the lessons, she began uploading videos online. One of the videos she uploaded during a lesson about long division garnered millions of views on social media and is still being used by teachers globally to teach children the method.

“Just allowing students to be themselves really transformed how a lot of students around the world are going to learn long division,” Ebri says.

Nadine's innovative efforts eventually led to her being named a finalist for the 2021 Duval County Teacher of the Year Award. That same year, she accepted a position with Duval County Public Schools as a district specialist to manage the Minecraft Lab. There, she enlightened teachers, specialists, students, and the community about the game's multifaceted benefits. Through this position, she also began traveling for conferences around the United States presenting for Microsoft on how to utilize digital game-based learning effectively in the classroom. Struck by the profound impact that gaming had on student engagement, student achievement and inclusivity, she shifted her dissertation to concentrate on digital game-based learning. Her research unearthed a startling disparity: while over 74% of kids under 18 identify as gamers, fewer than 20% of teachers tap into digital game-based learning. This finding galvanized her to intensify her efforts in diminishing the obstacles hindering teachers from incorporating games, including through professional development workshops.

After witnessing firsthand the positive impact that digital game-based learning has on children from various backgrounds, Ebri believes it is essential that such practices are embedded in school curriculums moving forward. She has noticed that all students, even those with accessibility or behavioral issues, were deeply engaged in immersive gaming lessons.

“There has never been a student who came into my lab that I wasn’t able to accommodate,” she says. “The game is meant for everyone.”

Ebri is fully committed to making sure students and teachers have access to digital game-based learning technology. She recently accepted a new position working for Microsoft as the Global Education Community Manager for Minecraft Education. In this role, she serves as the liaison between the product and its global community, laboring to cultivate and strengthen the network of educators who are harnessing the power of Minecraft in classrooms around the world.

Ebri also recently started her own business called Ebri Education where she offers professional development and consulting for teachers looking to learn more about digital game-based learning. She also created a soon-to-be-released virtual reality multiplication and division game for kids. Additionally, her leadership talents have been recognized with her recent appointment as the Northeast Regional Education Chair for Leadership Florida, a nonprofit that unites and engages leaders across the state.