Teaching Profession

Long Live the King

By Sean Cavanagh — June 17, 2008 2 min read

Steve Wiebe is a math teacher in suburban Seattle—and quite possibly, a celebrity in almost any video-game parlor in the world.

Mr. Wiebe, 39, is the chief protagonist in a recently released documentary film, “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,” which chronicles his attempt to set the world record in Donkey Kong, a video game popularized in the 1980s.

The film, directed by Seth Gordon, opened in theaters last year to critical acclaim, and it reached video stores for the first time this year.

Math teacher Steve Wiebe goes for a world record in a video game in New York City last year.

It tells the story of two video-game players: Billy Mitchell, the reigning Donkey Kong world champion, and Mr. Wiebe, then an unknown in video-gaming circles, who sets out on a quest to topple Mr. Mitchell’s record. Drama ensues.

Aside from presenting a colorful look into the competitive video-game circuit, the film offers a portrait of Mr. Wiebe, who attempts to set the video-game record—on a video machine at his house, and at tournaments across the country—while juggling family duties and beginning a new career as a teacher.

Mr. Wiebe decided to go into teaching after being laid off as an engineer at the Boeing Co., where he worked on landing gear for planes, and after losing another job as a software engineer. He began his school career as a substitute science teacher, and is shown on screen leading students through lab experiments and talking about the challenges of the classroom.

Today, he teaches math and coaches baseball at Finn Junior High School, in Kirkland, Wash., where he’s in his third year as a full-time educator.

In an interview, Mr. Wiebe said he occasionally incorporates lessons from Donkey Kong into his math lessons. He designed a student worksheet on proportionality in math around a video-game screen, and he’s used point-score totals to discuss rates and linear relationships.

“Once you relate math to something they’re into, you can see them come alive,” Mr. Wiebe said of his students.

Mr. Wiebe acknowledges he’s still coping with the challenges many young teachers face, such as maintaining discipline in his classroom and keeping students interested. But since his students are well aware of his recent role on the big screen, he admits he’s tried to use his newfound fame to his advantage. He’s hung a poster for “The King of Kong” on a wall in his classroom.

“I’ve got to gain any leverage I can,” Mr. Wiebe said jokingly. “I try to play that up as much as possible.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 18, 2008 edition of Education Week

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