Beverly Vaillancourt, M.Ed, Educator, Instructional Designer
My short stay in India working with the teachers and staff of Manav Rachna International School (MRIS) Sector 46, Gurgaon, India, last month was in every way an enriching life experience. The school serves youth from preschool through grade 12. From the vibrant art displayed throughout the school to the sense of well-being wrapped in purposeful industry conveyed by students and teachers alike, it is a school that defines education as a place of hope and vision. iCarnegie Global Learning has brought both its robotics program and Zulama’s courses to MRIS schools in Gurgaon. Though robotics is an established part of the MRIS curriculum, Zulama is a new offering.
Over 400 MRIS students in grades 9 – 10 are starting Zulama this month with a year-long study of the Evolution of Games. Next year brings both the Evolution of Games and Mobile Game Design to MRIS schools. Why a year’s study? The answer is simply the intensity of the MRIS academic schedule. Thus, both robotics and the Evolution of Games are part of several sections of classes that meet once a week, with daily study accomplished as a flipped classroom. Can it work? Sure. Is it ideal? No. However, I am confidant that this coordinated group of MRIS teachers will facilitate exciting Zulama learning experiences for their students. The proof is in the success of the robotics program that will soon see two MRIS teachers and a core group of students heading to Russia for an international robotics competition after winning the regional competition in India.
“Why study the history of games?” Aman, posed during the training? It was a fundamental question since all of the teachers are eager to move on to GameMaker Programming and Unity 3D Programming with their students, the more advanced computer coding courses offered by Zulama. Evolution of Games is Zulama’s foundation course. It would have been easy to have responded with, “Well, that’s how the curriculum was established by the professors from Carnegie-Mellon University who wrote the courses for Zulama, so that’s how it is presented for your students.” However, such a response would have not honored the importance of Aman’s question. Thus, with the training placed aside for the moment, a pivotal conversation ensued on the critical importance of historical knowledge for 21st Century learners.
Cicero (103 BC), a Roman philosopher and politician, is to have said that “not to know what took place before you were born, is to remain forever a child.” With Evolution of Games students gain a deep appreciation for the importance of games in past cultures, and how those games have bound societies as part of trade, war, and migration. They mature in their understanding of games and game design as they collaborate and communicate in completing projects as IDEA© (Innovate, Design, Engage, Assess) teams, all the while building the critical thinking skills and intuitive understanding of game design needed for courses beyond the Evolution of Games.
Evolution of Games provides a solid foundation of project based learning. Students work together to build game boards, complete WebQuests, and share their understanding of games and game design, building both individual knowledge and skills in group dynamics. The 21st Century learning skills gained as part of the study of the Evolution of Games are essential to students’ success as they move through Zulama’s courses, and critical for success in careers that require collaboration and creative engagement. Moreover, students quickly begin to see how the principles of game design have been used throughout the ages beginning with the game of Ur in Mesopotamia to today’s video games. By diving into the cultural elements found in each game, students learn the story integral to each game, and intuitively begin to understand that every game has a story.
I was, in every way, impressed with the dedication and determination of the teachers I met at MRIS 46 Gurgaon. Their enthusiasm for the study of games and game design was peppered with the uncertainty of working in an entirely new online format that layers project based learning on a robust, standards-based curriculum; yet, they embraced every new step. Importantly, they expressed an understanding that today’s career preparation is grounded on the need for problem solvers and design thinkers as absolutes for the careers of tomorrow. And, thus the journey into all that Zulama has to offer for the careers of the future begins at MRIS Sector 46 Gurgaon.
Games are a universal language. Students in India can share their knowledge of the principles of game design and their enjoyment playing games with students anywhere in the world. And, with it, a global dialogue begins. Zulama hopes to foster such a dialogue between Zulama students at MRIS Sector 46 Gurgaon and Zulama students in the United States. Communication across the miles, embracing diversity, all built on the intellectual challenge of games and game design, tethering todays’ classrooms with tomorrow’s innovations.