An Open Letter to Zulama Teachers and Administrators


By Bev Vaillancourt

In my travels, I’ve had the great privilege of visiting many Zulama Schools from Florida to Maine and the many states in between. Without question, Zulama Teachers and Administrators stand out as a very special group of educators. At this time of thanksgiving, it seems like an especially perfect opportunity to thank the Zulama Community for all that they do!

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 1.10.42 PMThank you for being willing to step outside of your comfort zone.

Zulama Teachers allow students, at times, to take on the role of teacher within their classrooms. This essential pedagogy comes from a deep understanding that the best way to learn is to teach.

They help students seek answers to questions that may perplex them, as well, recognizing that students thrive when allowed to be critical thinkers and subject matter experts, be that in coding or the core content that goes into making an educational game.

Thank you for creating classrooms that students want to be in.

Zulama Teachers, quite simply, are great teachers who are fostering a most needed paradigm shift in education that will take schools from quiet desks in a row to redesigned learning spaces that encourage communication and design.

Zulama Teachers tell students that it is perfectly acceptable to make mistakes on their journey to success. And, with that, they build a culture of collaboration and creativity in their classrooms one day at a time.

For many students, the Zulama classroom is their home base where they spend their time during lunch or during a free period, and where they hesitate to leave when the bell rings for the next class. I’ve seen this play out over and over again when visiting Zulama classrooms. It is, in every way, inspiring.

IMG_2965Thank you for believing in and inspiring your students.

Zulama Teachers believe in the agency of youth and in youth’s capacity to problem solve and design. They are lifelong learners, and build the deep joy of discovery in their students.

In essence, Zulama Teachers model what we hope students will be – risk takers, who think beyond the obvious to what might be.

We thank you for inspiring your students to think beyond who they are to who they can be. If you ever wondered otherwise, just take a look at the smiles on the faces of the students in your Zulama class. They are genuine and hold great promise. For this, your students thank you, as well.

Thank you for being advocates.

Zulama Teachers could not do what they do so well without the support of Administrators. So, all of us at Zulama tip our hats to the visionary Administrators who introduce Zulama to their schools.

You are in every way agents of change in education, and quite frankly, at first, sometimes the sole advocate and cheerleader of the Zulama Teacher within the school district. You are champions of that very different dynamic that plays out in Zulama classrooms. Work ethic, focus, a climate of mutual respect of individual talents and skills, a level playing field of self-reliant learners with a focus on project based learning: this is the Zulama classroom.

From everyone at Zulama, thank you Zulama Teachers and Administrators for all that you do for the youth of today as we together build their tomorrows. We wish you the Happiest Thanksgiving and a successful rest of the year!

National Climate Game Jam

climate_game_jamWritten in cooperation with Peg Steffins from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On September 30, Zulama students from South Fayette High School and Elizabeth Forward High School in Pennsylvania participated in the National Climate Game Jam at the Carnegie Mellon Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. Students from Harmony High School in Harmony, Florida, gathered in their Zulama classroom for the day. From board games, to card games, to digital games, Zulama students put their game design skills to work to create several creative games with a focus on science.


Zulama students at Harmony High School in Osceola, FL work on their Climate Game Jam submission.

Harmony High School hosted 35 student game designers for the day long event. Beginning at 7 a.m. and working non-stop through lunch and into the afternoon, eight design teams made up of student game designers, computer programmers, and artists created a variety of games focused on climate change. Brad Davey and Hilarie Davis, consultants with NOAA, served as resident experts, answering student questions and encouraging student creativity. Bev Vaillancourt from Zulama spent the day at Harmony High School facilitating connections with Peg Steffins from NOAA who communicated with Harmony High School game designers twice during the day via SKYPE to congratulate students on their participation and provide expert assistance when needed. Harmony High School teacher Lynn VanderZyl managed technical questions with ease from her Zulama students throughout the day as they put their GameMaker programming and game design skills to work. According to comments from several students, the climate game jam day was the best school day ever!

“As a former Zulama student I had quite a few friends participating in Pittsburgh’s Climate Game Jam. I saw computer science buffs and garage band musicians work together researching different natural disasters and finding ways to make them battle in their card game. Others were athletes and gamers huddled together looking for ways to fuse resource management and the game “Risk”. After just five minutes observing a Zulama class it is easy to see that at the end of the day, all that matters is learning, playing games, and having fun!”

-Dennis McClintock, Zulama Media Assistant

Zulama students at Harmony High School in Osecola, FL work on their Climate Game Jam submission.

Zulama students at Harmony High School in Osecola, FL work on their Climate Game Jam submission.

The purpose of the National Climate Game Jam was to provide an opportunity for game developers, artists, climate scientists, educators, and youth at sites across the U.S. to consider climate change impacts and develop games that will be shared nationally online and at special showcases in winter 2016. The jam offered a unique opportunity for game designers to build climate game prototypes. At the conclusion of the jam, each development team submitted a 2 minute video for later judging by science and game design experts. Selected games will be eligible for further refinement with assistance by companies such as GlassLabs or if completed later, will be posted on the Smithsonian Learning Lab or

Sites worked simultaneously around the country October 2-4, each hosting a unique audience.  The largest site was at the Video Game Convention at the DC Convention Center. Zulama students joined game designers in climate game jam sites across the county including:

  • Ward 4, Milwaukee – Students –K-12, colleges, universities
  • Harmony High School, Florida – Students grades 9 -12
  • California Academy of Science – Professional game developers
  • Michigan Technological University – Students K-12
  • Cayuga Nature Center, NY – Educators and students in colleges, universities, technical schools
  • Smithsonian Environmental Research Center – Professional game developers
  • Barnard College, NY – Students in colleges, universities, technical schools
  • University of Oklahoma, National Weather Service – Students in colleges, universities, technical schools

Post jam events will include climate game showcases at the National Museum of Natural History in November, the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco in December, and Koshland Science Museum in late winter. These will highlight selected game products and provide testing opportunities for the teams with the public.

NOAA NOS/CED provided organizational leadership for this event. Cooperating partners included Smithsonian, Koshland Science Center (D.C), GlassLabs, Entertainment Software Association, Wilson Center, California Academy of Science, STEMHero, PoLAR Partnership, Entertainment Software Association, University of Oklahoma (National Weather Service), Paleontological Research Institute (Cornell), Harmony High School (FL), Barnard College (NY), Michigan Technological University (MI), BrainPOP, and Zulama.

Reinventing Learning

by Sarah Avery, Zulama Community Advocate

Project based learning, collaboration, 21st century learning; all great words and phrases, but how do they actually work in our classrooms? Below you’ll find different educational activities using all these great phrases that can be used in any classroom to jumpstart student learning and grow skills that will stay with your students throughout their lives! 

Classroom Blogs: Looking for ways to address the writing standards in a real-world way? Start a classroom blog! This is a great way to increase classroom communication outside of the four walls of your room. As the teacher, you can use the blog to spread information to parents and spearhead student discussions that can be continued during the school day. Your students will get real world experience writing and publishing their own articles while developing their opinions in an engaging and mature way that will prepare them for a future job or college!

Check out Mike Wallagher’s article, Blogging in the Classroom- How to Get Started, for more ideas on how to use blogging to reinvent learning in your classroom!

Looking for more ways for your students to get real world writing experience? Share their blogs with us! With their permission, we would love to share their articles in our newsletters so other teachers can see the great things your students are doing!

Electronic Pen Pal: One of the best ways to extend learning outside the four walls of our classrooms is to find connections via the internet. How great would it be to connect with a class in France or Russia and collaborate across continents and cultures on common projects!

Check out Lisa Mims’ article, Pen Pals in the 21st Century, for ideas on how to make out-of-classroom connections for your students!

Game Based Learning: No Zulama article would be complete without mentioning game-based learning! Why? Because game-based learning is a great way to get students excited for learning, building, developing, and so much more! Games can be used to support any content area because you need all areas to develop a game. You need probability, storytelling, research, organization, art, and more to create a game. By having students play and build their own games, you can get your students excited about learning everything!

Check out Beverly Vaillancourt’s article, Redefining Play, for information on how you can use games to support your classroom!

If you have ideas for reinventing learning in the classroom, we’d love to see them in the comments below!

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