Make Computer Science Part of Your Professional Learning

Over the next few months, we will be sharing all kinds of resources related to Computer Science Professional Development — from stories by teachers and Computer Science Professional Development experts to podcasts, graphics, Facebook Live events, and other fun surprises ;).

This is a conversation and we would love to hear your ideas and feedback along the way! Is there anything in particular about Computer Science (CS) that you’d like to hear about?

We are exploring the intersection of Computer Science and Professional Development to champion CS education and the teachers who bring it to life and to support the launch of our own CS professional learning opportunity.

Computer Science and Game Design for Teachers

From its inception, Zulama has been committed to helping teachers become life-changing mentors to their students and providing teachers with personalized, fun, and rigorous learning opportunities. To that end, we’re SO excited about the launch of our Computer Science and Game Design Professional Development Course and Certificate, created in partnership with the Computer Science Teachers Association.

With the rapid growth of CS-related careers, we want to give all teachers a chance to learn how to bring engaging CS experiences to their students. Our self-paced, interactive course will do just that, and this year we’re aiming to teach 2,000 teachers across the country about the joys of CS and Game Design.

A Bit More about the Course

Our 30-hour professional development course is designed for K-12 Teachers, experienced coders and novices alike. This online course is fun and highly interactive while also being rigorous enough to align with the K-12 CS Framework and the CSTA standards. In the course, teachers will:

  • learn and apply game design principles and programming skills.
  • use industry-standard tools to design and code an original video game and showcase it in their own digital portfolio.
  • interact with other teachers who are learning about and teaching CS.
  • receive a Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, upon completion of the course.

You can learn more about the course and register for it here.

Why CS Matters: The State of CS Education

  • Over 7.7 million Americans use computers in complex ways in their jobs (Change the Equation, 2015).
  • Nearly half of those 7.7 million work in fields that are not directly tied to science, technology, engineering, and math (Change the Equation, 2015).
  • Fewer than half of K–12 schools offer computer science courses with programming included (Google & Gallup, 2016).

Are You Meta-curious?

Metacognition, Growth Mindset, Meta-curious

Discovering Metacognition

Elementary school teacher Karin Morrison was teaching the numbers 1 through 10 to the children in her class. This counting exercise was a suitable challenge for some of her students. Other students, were immediately disengaged. One boy, who wanted to be an astronaut, was counting in “light years” rather than counting to 10. Creative, but Karin was unsure about how to focus him on counting to 10.

Her student was thinking about numbers in a way that was meaningful to him rather than addressing the assignment. She decided to try to understand why he was thinking about math in the way that he was. “How can I help him think more about his own thinking?” she asked herself.

“Thinking about one’s own thinking” is also known as “metacognition.” Like many other educators, Karin stumbled upon the concept of metacognition without learning about it formally.
She began to design activities around metacognition. When her students reflected on how they were thinking and why, they engaged with and refined their personal learning process. Later in her career, Karin co-authored a book on the subject —
Making Thinking Visible— with Project Zero’s Ron Ritchhart.

On a Zulama hangout, Nikki Navta and Karin Morrison dove into how to develop metacognitive skills
in the classroom. Their practical strategies for educators who want to “engage students in thinking about their own thinking” are below.

Metacognitive Tools

The Iterative Process

The iterative process consists of a cycle of prototyping, testing, and refining. Students can reflect on which strategies worked, which did not, and why. This cycle emphasizes systems thinking and focuses on how a solution is reached, rather than the solution itself. Zulama students use the iterative process to build and continually improve their game design projects.

Collaborative Project-Based Learning

Consistent collaboration helps students view problems from the perspective of their teammates, embrace new ideas, and learn strategies from one another.

Embracing Failure

When failure is embraced as essential to the learning process, students learn to view failure experiences not as barriers to learning but as ongoing opportunities to understand how they think and learn. They see failure as the beginning of their learning, not an endpoint.

Student-Centric Classrooms

In student-centric classrooms, teachers act as facilitators and mentors who encourage student inquiry and discovery. This classroom paradigm encourages students to develop their own strategies for learning and thinking.

Metacognition Meets Growth Mindset

In implementing these tools, it is helpful to be aware of the intersection between metacognition and the growth mindset. A growth mindset is an understanding that, with effort, one can always grow and improve. Metacognition is the ability to reflect on one’s own learning process and strategies.

When a growth-minded teacher gives encouraging feedback, they remind students that hard work and grit lead to growth and improvement. For that feedback to be helpful, students need to understand what kind of “hard work,” or learning strategies, are most effective for them. To discover personal learning strategies, students must be able to reflect on the strategies that have (and haven’t) worked for them in the past. They must be able to think about their own thinking.


The first step to effectively developing a growth mindset and metacognitive skills is to be “meta-curious” — a term that Nikki coined during the hangout. Being meta-curious could mean that you are curious about metacognition, or it could mean that you are curious about your own curiosity. If you fit into either category, try out some of the tools listed above, keep reading about metacognition, subscribe to the Education Innovation podcast on iTunes, and get in touch with us on Twitter @ZulamaLearn.

Watch our “Understanding Metacognition” Hangout here or listen on iTunes.

Students Design Out of this World Games at South Fayette’s Game Jam

What is a Game Jam?

At a Game Jam, design teams come together to build original games in a limited time frame. It is a fantastic opportunity for students to collaborate, engage in creative problem solving, and deepen critical thinking skills.


South Fayette Game Jam:

Zulama teachers Chelsea McIntyre and Jeannie Scott hosted an outer space-themed Game Jam at South Fayette School District in PA. 16 teams participated and over the course of about three hours, 16 new digital or board games had been built! Thank you to Sabrina Culyba at Schell Games for giving an excellent keynote speech, to Hans Westman at Westman Design Group and Lily Taylor at Zulama for serving as judges, and to the Infosys Foundation, whose contribution gave South Fayette the ability to extend outreach in maker education to neighboring districts.



Why Real-World Projects?

Real-World Projects

With the Zulama Real-World Projects course, students deepen skills they gained in other Zulama courses to design and build a playable game for a client, such as a small business, nonprofit, or their school district. Students learn how to manage client relationships while strengthening their core competencies, including collaboration, team building, problem solving, systems thinking, and creative solutions, and grit. Here are two shining examples of teachers who’ve had great success with the course:

Lynn Vanderzyl:

Lynn Vanderzyl, a Zulama teacher at Harmony High School, has taught Real-World Projects for the past two years. The first year, two of her students found a client within their own school–their AP Environmental Science Teacher. According to Lynn, “They made a 2D Jeopardy game in Unity for their AP Environmental Science class. The class used the game to review for their AP exam.” This time, she is starting out the school year by having her students design with GameMaker: Studio and Oculus Rift. Lynn wrote, I love watching everything the students have learned in the other Zulama courses come together!!!”

img_0919Chris Lucas:

Chris Lucas from West Allegheny shared that he is teaching his Game Production and Marketing Class as if it were a Real-World Projects class. His students are working on various game-design projects, including “an elementary game for a special education teacher” and “a DNA game for our high school science department.”


How could the Real World Projects course be used to spark design and entrepreneurship at your school?

Game Review: Disruptus

Disruptus“This game is all about innovation” write the creators of Disruptus. For the Pittsburgh Zulama Team, this game was not only about innovation, but also about silliness.

Disruptus centers around a thoughtfully illustrated deck of cards. Each card depicts a different physical product, such as a sewing machine or a sailboat, and players have one minute per round to come up with original ways to improve, transform or disrupt a product. Everyone takes turns serving as “judge” and deciding which player’s idea wins the round. According to the instructions, the “craziest, most innovative” idea should win, but we interpreted that rule loosely. During some rounds, the most hilarious invention triumphed; other rounds, the most useful product took the cake. And ultimately, a player’s ability to pitch their idea could determine their success.

Disruptus revealed that each of us approaches problems from a different angle. Some of our players had an amazing knack for coming up with practical ideas like the rent-a-tablet station or shopping cart compartments. Some players took the high-tech, future-oriented approach, with products like transporter shelves and self-driving nap pods. And others went the wacky route with ideas like Pillowland, roller-coaster pills, and a service where humans act as hammocks.

The emphasis on creative problem solving makes Disruptus particularly appropriate for the workplace or classroom. Challenging our expectations about everyday products forces us out of normal patterns of thinking; it pushes our brains to look at problems sideways, upside-down, and inside-out. It helps us stay open-minded about our team-members’ ideas and our own.

Not only does Disruptus motivate players to use their imagination in thinking about products, but it also encourages players to be inventive in how they play the game. The creators write at the end of the instructions, “The bottom line is… the rules can be viewed as suggestions that you can modify.” You could alter the game to make ideas anonymous, you could decide that players get points for coming up with a perfect name for their invention, or you could require players to combine three different product cards into one new invention.

Disruptus CardsThe game also comes with design-your-own cards, and our team in Pittsburgh discussed the possibility of adding in cards depicting pop culture figures or animals. A classroom could even create cards that include elements from their curriculum; for example a 3D Modeling class could make cards with different 3ds MAX tools on them, and students might have to think about how to improve the Select or Background tool.

This game is all about what you put into it. I found that in order to fully engage with it, I had to let go of my pride and expectations. It seems that silliness is inevitable in the brainstorming and innovating process. And sometimes the craziest ideas can lead you to the best ideas. If you let yourself embrace the hilarity of it all, you might find yourself thinking in completely new ways.

Game Review

Game Review