Learn about Computer Science, Learn about Yourself: A Hero’s Journey

By: Amy Pavelich, Zulama Copy Editor

Computer science is a liberal art, it’s something everyone should know how to use, at least, and harness in their life.” Steve Jobs

To all educators who are dedicated to helping students realize their full potential: We’re asking you to take a hero’s journey, if you will. This adventure will reshape how you think, give you the ability to enhance your classroom experience, and propel your students into the future. Want in?

Your Call to Adventure

We call upon you to action: Challenge yourself to gain new and relevant skills through computer science professional learning and develop a stronger understanding of your mindset. These steps not only will help you discover more about yourself as a teacher, but also they will give you the tools to empower and engage your students.

Hero's Journey

Why Start This Journey?

The number of students seeking majors in computer science (CS) at colleges and universities is unprecedented and set on a trajectory that far exceeds previous trends. Kids want to shape their futures through CS because it’s part of their daily lives; they understand how it touches every discipline, that every field is an information field.

Computer Science Majors

Average number of CS majors per unit since 2006. “Unit” denotes the administrative division responsible for the CS bachelor’s program. Source: Computing Research Association.

Despite the high demand for K–12 CS education, we face a shortage of both schools that offer CS and teachers who have CS experience. We know that kids yearn for computer science. In fact, students at Berea-Midpark high school recently proposed to their school board that it should offer a new CS course. By seeking out CS professional learning:

  • You fill the gap where the shortage occurs. Getting certified to teach CS or to bring CS concepts into other classes shows that you are a leader in your school. It will encourage other teachers and administrators to champion your cause, explore CS with you, and eventually institute CS curriculum.
  • You reach every student. CS is a fun and relatable experience for kids, especially when taught with a game design focus. By integrating what students are interested in, you’re offering them a deeper learning experience. You will see them tap into their own creativity as they work collaboratively and apply problem-solving skills to their work.

Computer Science Teacher and Students

Equip Yourself with the Right Tools

Becoming Aware of Your Mindset

Your mindset is one of the most powerful tools you possess on this journey, in your teaching career, and in your own life. Like many teachers, you might be concerned about having adequate subject knowledge or suitable resources for teaching CS effectively. By exploring CS PD and applying a growth mindset to it, you will find these are exactly the tools that will prepare you to teach your classes with confidence and dexterity.

Take a moment to discover where your mindset falls on the continuum by taking this survey. Reflect on times when you have approached challenges with a growth mindset. How did that affect the outcome? How can you bring that mindset to new challenges?

Tips for Adjusting Your Mindset

A growth mindset isn’t a natural state of being. It takes practice and consistently renewing your efforts to work toward a growth mindset. Here are a few tips:

  • See yourself as a learner. Like your students, you are capable of improving. Tap into your desire to transcend what you currently view as limitations. Being open to this idea is the first step on your journey.
  • Be willing to try new ideas. Get out of your comfort zone and embrace setbacks along the way. See them not as a measurement or limitation of your intelligence but as jumping points you can learn from.
  • Make time for self-reflection. So your new idea was a hit! Or maybe it didn’t go as planned. Either way, by focusing on what you gleaned from the process rather than on the end result, you will have a much more fulfilling experience.

Applying Growth Mindset in the Classroom

“Research also supports the idea that educator mindsets may influence the way they respond to students, which in turn has an impact on the students’ outcomes.” Mindset Works

Like you, all students are capable of learning CS, even if they have different learning styles. With a growth mindset, you will have higher expectations of your students. Giving them “strategy” praise (emphasizing effort over ability) will result in better student performance, stronger motivation, and a perception that you truly care about them.

The next thing you know, the roles will be reversed and your students will be teaching you a thing or two about computer science! As Thomas Suarez reflects in his Ted Talk, “These days students knowusually knowa little bit more than teachers with the technology.”

Crossing the Finish Line

Answering the call to action will be a rewarding challenge and personally transformative experience. By applying growth mindset to your professional development, you attain a stronger belief in your own ability to grow with your students. Your confidence and enthusiasm help minimize the CS gap by influencing your peers to get involved in making this invaluable resource available to more students earlier in their educational experience. By teaching computer science, you’ll make learning relevant, providing students the vision of a future filled with boundless opportunities. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to put on your hero’s cape and take the next step in your journey!

Superheros

Additional Resources

  • These Ted Talks surely will get you thinking more enthusiastically about computer science education. In these presentations you will find a common thread of passion, excitement, determination, and an eagerness for challenge—the very hallmarks of a healthy growth mindset:
    • Twelve-year-old app developer Thomas Suarez’s Ted Talk. How can you not feel inspired? He’s 12 and a self-taught programmer. What’s his secret? A strong fascination with technology. And not just for playing games, but developing them. Find out his approach to how he taught himself and his peers to become programmers.
    • Linda Liukas’s Ted Talk. Liukas, founder of Rails Girls, provides insightful ideas about how code is a universal language for creativity and self-expression. Learn why she strongly advocates for a more diverse set of people to get involved with programming. You will discover how to break away from the common perception that computer science is just too “esoteric” and “magical” to be learned.

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This post is part of a blog series in support of our new professional development opportunity, the Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, co-developed with the Computer Science Teachers Association. For more on the intersection of computer science and professional development, read the previous posts in the series:

Six Questions to Help You Find the Perfect PD

Teachers: Are you getting ready for your own summer of learning? Start by asking yourself a few questions that will help you figure out exactly what kind of program you need.

We know many of you are committed to your own learning, as well as your students’. For example, “three in five teachers are willing to spend their own time to learn more about computer science” (Google, 2017). Professional development (PD) should be a great experience–helping you meet your goals and engage your students–but that isn’t always the case. Starting with a little prep work can help you find that exceptional experience and leave you more prepared and excited about bringing new skills to your students.

Computer Science Teacher

Zulama is currently focused on supporting teachers who are looking for computer science PD, but the following essential questions can be applied to professional learning experiences of all kinds. These questions will help you figure out what PD will be the most fun and fruitful for you, and lead to the most engaging experiences for your students.

1. How much time do I have available to commit to PD?

Start with the basics. PD can range from three days of in-person workshops to 30 hours of self-paced online learning, so find the one that matches up best with your schedule. Teachers say that longer-term PD serves them better in their teaching practice (Gates Foundation, 2014), so consider options that let you pace yourself over time. For example, PD with an online component gives teachers the ability to continue returning to the course over the span of a semester or year. You’ll be less worried about running out of time, which means you’ll be able to tinker, play, and discover throughout your PD experience.

2. What is my end goal for participating in a PD opportunity?

Do your goals match up with the goals of the PD you are interested in? Is a given course preparing you to teach a specific course in the short-term or helping you build an adaptive set of skills? If you are looking to develop yourself as a professional in the long-run, make sure that the PD offering is aiming to involve you in an interactive project-based learning experience. The general consensus among teachers is the best PD programs “…involve hands-on strategies for the teacher to actually participate in” (Gates Foundation, 2014).

3. Which do I prefer, an independent or mentorship-based learning experience?

An online PD experience inevitably means more independence. This leads to perks including more flexibility and the ability to work at your own pace. In-person PD, on the other hand, allows for face-to-face connections, leading to a more disciplined use of your time. We often recommend combining online and in-person PD experiences as we find that the two together lead to the deepest learning.

4. Do I want to learn from fellow educators?

Find out who is driving the PD program you are considering. Have the PD leaders spent much time in the classroom? Was the program crafted by teachers like you who have experience bringing new skills and learning practices to students? Most teachers have had the best PD experiences when they know that the creators of the program have been in their shoes.

5. How much money is available to me for PD?

We ask this question next to last because it’s important to not let cost get in the way of finding the most effective, engaging PD for you. While price is a significant factor to consider, teachers and schools have found various creative ways to get outside funding for PD programs, and you can too.

6. Now… what’s out there?

Each PD program will have pros and cons, but there plenty of options are out there, so you can find one that suits your needs! For example, here is a chart that makes sense of some current computer science PD offerings:

Computer Science Professional Development

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This post was adapted from a Zulama article in the CSTA Voice about selecting teacher PD that is tailored to your needs.

This post is part of a blog series in support of our new professional development opportunity, the Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, co-developed with the Computer Science Teachers Association. For more on the intersection of computer science and professional development, read the previous posts in the series:

How Games Can Bring Storytelling to Life in Your Classroom

By: Chris Klug, Assistant Teaching Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and Anna Roberts, Head of Outreach at Zulama

As games continue to evolve and attract broader audiences, they have become sophisticated vehicles for storytelling—putting the player (i.e., audience) at the center of an experience and giving them the power to bring the narrative to life. Story-rich games like Journey, FireWatch, This War of Mine, or Dungeons & Dragons engage your emotions and immerse you in new worlds. Could these qualities of story-rich games help engage your students, introducing them to unique and exciting learning experiences?

“I’m not sure I would have been able to transition from reader to
writer so easily if it had not been for gaming.”
—Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author

Game stories draw from the same core principles that writers have used to craft stories for millennia. Most games have a plot, characters, a theme, and dialogue, making them exciting for students to explore as writers and “readers.” This post examines some of the similarities and differences between games and traditional storytelling, providing tools and inspiration for bringing games and game narratives into your creative writing or literature classes.

What’s the Same? What’s Different?

Point of View

All stories have a Point of View that determines whose eyes the reader experiences the story through. In games, that Point of View is always first person because the player is the protagonist—deciding where to go, interacting with the world, and making decisions that impact the game.

More on First Person and Third Person in Games
If you’ve played games before, you may have heard them referred to as first person (playing the game through the protagonist’s eyes) or third person (playing the game as the protagonist, viewing them from the outside). But those references are to your perspective through the graphics, not the character’s Point of View in the story.

First-Person Perspective in What Remains of Edith Finch by Giant Sparrow Gam

Third-Person Perspective in Journey by thatgamecompany

 

Structure

Most stories draw from a traditional three-act structure that the character moves through, and game narratives are no different.

Act 1: The Beginning
Here the story introduces the major characters and the Inciting Incident, the event or decision that begins the story’s problem and sets the story in motion. For example, in Gone Home the story begins with Katie, the protagonist, returning from a trip to Europe to find a locked, empty house. The Inciting Incident is an ominous letter left on the front door from someone named Sam.


Gone Home by The Fullbright Company

Act 2: The Middle
This is where the story develops, where the protagonist encounters a series of obstacles and setbacks that creates rising Tension. At times, the protagonist (aka player) may feel like they’re getting further from their goal, and even need to learn new skills or strategies in order to progress. An interesting challenge arises in writing Act 2 of game narratives. As the protagonist, the player experiences setbacks more directly than one might when reading a novel. The game’s writer must keep that experience in mind, providing challenges but ensuring that the player still feels like they are making progress.

Act 3: End
Here the protagonist encounters the Climax and wraps up any loose ends. The protagonist must use all that they’ve learned so far in the story to tackle the hardest challenge of them all. In games this is often referred to as “the Boss Fight,” but in story-rich games it might not be a fight at all. In What Remains of Edith Fitch one of the final scenes brings two stories together, merging fantasy and reality, and forcing the player to do different actions with each hand as they move between the storylines.

Emotion

Like traditional stories, story-rich games can make a player feel things in intense ways—the fear of entering a dark room, the joy of mastering an especially hard mission, the discomfort of an awkward situation, or the sadness of losing a beloved companion. Games are great at evoking some emotions and aren’t so great at others.

Games Aren’t Great at: Empathy
While empathy is often used in traditional stories to stir the reader’s emotions, that’s not so in games. The player is a direct agent who makes decisions and choices, so the emotions they feel are typically built through those experiences. The player is much more like an actor in a play rather than the audience watching the play.

Games Are Great at: Guilt
One emotion that is easy to evoke in games is guilt, which is almost impossible to elicit in traditional storytelling. Guilt occurs when a person believes (accurately or not) that they have compromised their own standards of conduct or a moral standard. As readers of traditional stories we’re passive, we can empathize or feel sad but we can’t compromise ourselves through the experience. Games charge the player with making decisions as the protagonist, letting them choose how they’ll play (moral vs immoral) or presenting them with hard choices that impact the game or other characters.

A recent example from Anna’s own gaming experience:
I’ve been playing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, a game where one class of people (the augmented) is being oppressed by the larger population. In one part of the game, I (as the protagonist, Jensen) had to sneak into government offices to obtain documents that would help two people escape the city. When I arrived, I found out I could only save one of them and had to quickly choose between the two. I had met both of these characters, knew their stories and what they would face if they didn’t leave. The decision was a guilt-ridden one for me that lingered well after I had stopped playing.

Games Leave Room for the Player

One of the biggest functional differences in storytelling in games is that the game has to make room for the player–giving the player varying levels of freedom to interact, explore, and make choices within the game. This difference changes how the author needs to think about writing and even designing the story. From the moment of inspiration, game writing is a problem-solving exercise: creating a world and moving the player between major plot points, while also making room for the player to feel active and make decisions.

“In a game, you’re going to have to allow for player agency—the player needs to exert some control over the narrative’s direction . . . [this] changes how the story is laid out, and the tools a writer has at their disposal. ”
—Bill Gaider, Senior Writer at Bioware

An Analogy
Imagine that the writing process is like driving a car through the woods at night and the road is your story. If you’re writing fiction or poetry, it’s possible to just drive and discover the road as your headlights light the way. When writing a game, you need to know the end point and major intersections before you start driving. You’ll still discover details along the way that create a rich experience, but you have to understand the map first. (Of course, this approach can be used in traditional storytelling as well, it’s just mandatory when writing games.)

Bringing Games Into Your Classroom

Interesting, huh? And that’s just the start! Here are a few resources and ideas that could help you bring games into your classes:

Lucid Learning: Gone Home in a High School English Class

Paul Darvasi has done a bunch of cool things with games in his high school English classes. Paul’s blog details his experience using Gone Home as a literary text in three senior English classes. He provides “everything a teacher needs to know to duplicate the experience and, hopefully, build on it.”

Zulama Courses

Storytelling in Games
Zulama offers a 15-hour course called Storytelling in Games that is perfect for bringing game narratives into middle school English classes. In the course students create a game story through The Hero’s Journey.

Screenwriting
We also offer a full-semester Screenwriting course (co-developed with Chris) that helps high school students understand, critique, and write dramatic stories for movies, games, and television.

Computer Science and Game Design Certificate (professional learning)
If you want to learn more about games and game design yourself, the Computer Science and Game Design Certificate is a great option! Offered jointly by the Computer Science Teachers Association and Zulama, this 30-hour online course is a fun, rigorous introduction to both computer science and game design concepts.

Edutopia: Using Games for Serious Learning in High School

Social Studies teacher Matt Farber has written a book on game-inspired learning. In this Edutopia article he dives into a few more great story-rich games and how they could be used in schools to enhance students’ learning.

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This post is part of a blog series in support of our new professional development opportunity, the Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, co-developed with the Computer Science Teachers Association. For more on the intersection of computer science and professional development, read the previous posts in the series:

Five Ways to Make the Most of Computer Science PD

By: Rachel Hegarty, Zulama Support Guru

So you’ve just signed up for a computer science professional development course for this summer (or you’re about to)! As our students know, a new learning experience can be both exciting and a little nerve-wracking. Here are five ways you can make the most of your PD:

1. Don’t be afraid to jump in and mess around.

Playing with a new technology is often the best way to learn it and GameMaker has some great tutorials. Consider your five-year-old and how quickly she figured out your smartphone!

Games and learning computer science

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

In the Zulama and CSTA Computer Science and Game Design PD course, the Support button is your friend, as is our customer service crew. If we don’t have the answer for you ourselves, we’ll work hard and quickly to find it out. But first, ASK. If your PD doesn’t provide customer service, ask another teacher or check for forums. Inquiry is part of learning, after all, and that’s what we’re all in the business of doing.

3. Don’t be afraid to fail.

Really. Please. A failed game build or line of code is just an iteration, and iterative development is the way to design anything. Failure is good. Failure teaches.

Computer Science Teacher Professional Development

4. Don’t be afraid to play.

Building games can be an exciting avenue into CS. And if you build games, you should definitely play games. Ask your students what games they’re playing and try them out. You’ll better understand where you can go with CS and ways you can teach CS principles if you can speak your students’ language.

5. Don’t be afraid to dream.

As you work through your course, think about things you could do in your classroom to reinforce and explore CS principles. What can gaming and coding do for you? What can it do for your students?

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Haven’t signed up for a CS PD program yet for this summer? Check out the Computer Science and Game Design course, co-designed by the CSTA and Zulama! You’ll learn game design and programming skills, earning a Computer Science and Game Design Certificate.

Sign up for our Computer Science & Game Design PD here!

Breaking: Zulama Joins AT&T Aspire Accelerator’s 2017 Cohort

We are thrilled to announce that we’ve been selected for the 2017 class of the AT&T Aspire Accelerator program! Now in its third year, the program brings together startups that are tackling the most pressing challenges in education.

This year’s class puts us alongside seven other innovative ed-tech organizations. During our time in the program, we’ll receive financial investment, mentorship and access to expert services from AT&T and others. The Aspire Accelerator is part of AT&T Aspire, the company’s $400 million commitment since 2008 to support education and connect the learning revolution to the young people who need it most.

We can’t wait to get started. Learn more here and stay tuned for updates.