Starting Off Another Great Year!

By Sarah Avery, Community Advocate

It’s been a busy summer for the Zulama team filled with workshops, trainings, summer camps, and more! We made new connections, partners, and friends and we can’t wait to see what this new school year has in store!

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Teachers from 3 different school districts collaborating on a math game at the South Fayette STEAM Innovation Summer Institute. Picture taken by Norton Gusky

In addition, we’ve been working on ways to become more accessible to our teachers. Here’s just a few ways we’re reaching out:

Connect With Us on Twitter:

@ZulamaLearn: If you haven’t already, you should definitely follow us on twitter! We’re always looking to connect with great teachers!

#ZMediaMonday: Every monday we’ll share pieces of outstanding media we receive. If you want your student work featured, tweet it to us on Mondays!

#ZMoments: Tweet in your favorite Zulama Classroom moments from the week!

#ZFamFriday: Each Friday we nominate an outstanding member of the Zulama Community. Tweet in your nominations for star teachers, students, and administration in the Zulama Community!

#RMLHangout: Every month Zulama collaborates with Dr. Todd Keruskin from Elizabeth Forward and Dustin Stiver from the Sprout Fund to host Google Hangouts for Remake Learning! During the hangout we live tweet the discussion and would love for you and your class to join us!

Check out Our Google Hangouts:

Each month Nikki Navta hosts a google hangout with Dustin Stiver and Dr. Todd Keruskin for the affinity group Remake Learning. These Hangouts take place on the 3rd or 4th Tuesday of each month at 2:00 PM EST. Feel free to view these hangouts with your students!

Our next hangout will take place on September 22nd when we’ll be joined by

It is sure to be an educational and exciting discussion!

Our most recent hangout featured Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd) and Nick Provenzano (@TheNerdyTeacher), two fantastic educators who joined us to discuss 21st Century Skills and Project Based Learning!

Have questions? Tweet them during the hangout to @ZulamaLearn or #RMLHangout! We’ll be live tweeting the hangout and we love to see students connecting to industry professionals!

We’re always looking for topics of interest to students! So, if there are any topics they really want to learn about send their ideas and questions to us via Twitter, Facebook, or email me at and I’ll add them to our schedule!

Game Reviews:

You may have noticed we’ve been including game reviews in our newsletters. We love sharing our favorite games!
If your students are interested in reviewing games for our newsletter, just download our Game Review document, review your game, and send it back to me at!


Each newsletter we’ll review the game review submissions and select one to feature!

The First Step:

From all of us in the Zulama team, have a fantastic school year! We’re always available to provide support, build connections, and help in any way we can! So, connect to us on our social media,

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shoot us an email, or, or start a discussion in our new teacher’s forum, accessible through the SUPPORT BUTTON in the LCMS!


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Teaching 21st Century Learners

Norton Gusky, Educational Consultant

In the late 1990s the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) created a framework for learning in the new millennium. Yet, just over fifteen years into the new century it’s already time to rethink the P21 framework. First there was the 3Rs. Then came the 4Cs—communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. To this, P21 added life and career skills and information and media skills. Today in order to meet the needs of 21st Century learners we need to build out the skill set further to include computational thinking, entrepreneurial spirit, and dispositions like persistence.

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In its educational leadership role, the South Fayette School District, located south of Pittsburgh,  has developed an articulated K-12 model for learning that addresses all the key elements of the P21 framework. Called “STEAM Fusion”, South Fayette’s model integrates engineering and design problem-based learning. Going one step further its model pulls in elements of computational thinking, career connections, and entrepreneurial spirit.  This article brings to light the South Fayette model in an interview with Aileen Owens, the Director of Technology and Innovation. In addition, this article will share the perspective of Jerry Cozewith, the executive director of Entrepreneuring Youth, a non-profit organization in PIttsburgh that targets minority and underserved youth in grades 6-12.

The South Fayette STEAM Fusion Model

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For Aileen Owens, computational thinking plays a key role in opening up opportunities for innovation. “I developed a computational thinking initiative and that initiative is a way to teach the thought processes of innovation for our students.”  Aileen Owens in a proposal for a grant support from the Grable Foundation, a major educational foundation in the Pittsburgh area, outlined the role of computational thinking:

Computational thinking as a process of working effectively with computer-based technology is the new literacy. Understanding programming is as important to our children’s future as the basic reading, writing, and mathematics literacies. Computational thinking, as described in the working definition established by ISTE/CSTE, is a problem-solving process that includes (but is not limited to) the following characteristics:

  • Formulating problems in a way that enables people to use a computer and other tools to help solve them.
  • Logically organizing and analyzing data.
  • Representing data through abstractions such as models and simulations.
  • Automating solutions through algorithmic thinking (a series of ordered steps).
  • Identifying, analyzing, and implementing possible solutions with the goal of achieving the most efficient and effective combination of steps and resources.
  • Generalizing and transferring this problem-solving process to a wide variety of problems.


In addition to computational thinking the South Fayette model incorporates a series of dispositions called Habits of Mind. According to Aileen there are five key Habits of Mind that are essential to Computational Thinking: ·       

  • Confidence in dealing with complexity
  • Persistence in working with difficult problems
  • Tolerance for ambiguity.
  • The ability to deal with open-ended problems
  • The ability to communicate and work with others to achieve a common goal or solution.

Entrepreneuring Youth

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According to the Entrepreneuring Youth website: “We help young people start and operate businesses as a way to guide them toward their own path to success after high school. When young people run businesses of their own creation, they bloom with newfound confidence. They discover talents which were once hidden. They think of themselves as “owners” and “presidents.” Young people who become young entrepreneurs realize the value of creating (rather than waiting) for opportunities.”
According to one of the young entrepreneurs featured in a promotional video, EY gave her a voice. “… I could stand up before all of these people and say things that were on mind.”

Jerry Cozewith focuses on the concept of “self-efficacy” as the key for success. It’s about empowering youth. It’s not just that kids learn the value of owning a business; it’s more about the growth of young men and women who have the tools and awareness that will make them successful wherever they travel or seek to make their imprint. The EY program expands on the P21 4Cs by giving students motivation. Without motivation learning does not happen.

The Role of of the Zuluma Entertainment Technology Academy

How does this new definition for 21st Century Learning fit into the Zulama framework? Zulama is built upon the same computational thinking framework outlined by Aileen Owens. In every Zulama course students are using computers to solve problems. In every course students create models, test their ideas, and use a process of iteration to develop creative products. The students build upon class activities to create modified games, 2D and 3D animations, or screenplays for video scripts.

The Habits of Mind that frame the South Fayette Fusion model are essential to the growth of learners in the Zulama Entertainment Academy. Students learn to deal the complexity of game-based learning systems. Students gain an awareness of ambiguity. Students work with open-ended problems often as part of collaborative teams.

The Entrepreneurial spirit shines in the Zulama Studio Courses. Here students work in teams to create creative solutions for their school, their community, or for global partners. The sense of “self efficacy” identified by Jerry Cowewith is seen over and over among Zulama students. Zulama students are truly motivated and become an esprit corps that sells the value of this type of 21st century learning to other students.

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Game Review: Array

In this colorful game, the goal is to get rid of the cards in your hand.  Reminding us of Uno and Dominoes, this color based game tested our strategy skills and ability to create connections.Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 9.22.12 AM

In this game there are  4 main moves.  You can Slice, Splice, Splatter, and Slam the cards in play and your opponents. Similar to Dominoes, players create intricate patterns with the cards by splicing and slicing the arrays on the table.  However, the game isn’t all about creating beautiful designs out of cards. In order to prevent other players from winning, you can splatter or slam them with more cards, similar to Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 9.22.26 AMUno.  As tradition with our competitive group, there was a lot of splattering and slamming.

Though a bit confusing to begin, the helpful video Funnybone Toys uploaded to youtube provided clarity.


Scoring a 2.9 out of 5 makes Array one of our lowest scoring games.  Though an interesting twist on two familiar games we found the rules to be confusing.  In addition, while the card design was innovative and fresh, some colors may be difficult to differentiate. Simply stated, if you are color-blind or have general difficulty with colors, this game might not be for you.  

Overall an interesting and colorful adaptation of two classic games that may or may not make a splash with your group.


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Game Review: Penn Hills Edition

Recently, Zulama was involved in a summer camp ran by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit 3, hosted by Penn Hills High School.  During this camp, students worked through the Making Mobile Games short course, and created their own mobile games.  The final day, students were given the option to review some of their favorite games.  Their reviews are below!


Magic the Gathering

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Joseph: I can play this game with my friends and be entertained for hours.

Justin: I like this game because I made a lot of good friends from it.

Rashaun: I like the game because my friends play it and I didnt’t want to feel left out. Also it looked  really cool so I wanted to learn.

Jermel: I started to play Magic because I watched my friends play then I ask to play and they taught me and I won my first game.

Rashad: I like this game because it has diversity, skill , and a lot of fun. Everyone’s decks are different, and your cards are random, making no two games alike. There are different game modes, consisting of different numbers of players, different twists, and way more possibilities. Also, if you don’t like the way some modes are, it’s a card game with your friends, so you can bend rules, mix modes, and do whatever you want with your friends.Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 10.00.15 AM



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Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 10.36.51 AMStudent Review:

Superfight is a fun argumentative game. This game has numerous mashups between players to decide who has dominance. The whole game is based on logic, fantasy, and opposing strengths. All and all it is a very fun game to play with fellow friends and nerds.Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 10.36.17 AM



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Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 10.37.47 AMStudent Review:

James: OpenTTD is a game about transporting all sorts of things over a virtual simulated world. You can use trains, boats, planes, or road vehicles. It’s based on Transport Tycoon Deluxe (TTD) by Chris Sawyer, who coded, composed, and painted every part of the game. The game is historically accurate, and features inflation, random disasters, and reputations with towns. If a town dislikes you, they won’t let you build stations in your town. You can make them like you again by planting trees in their town, or giving them an advertising campaign. OpenTTD is addicting and everyone should try it.

CJ: OpenTTD is a business simulation game that is very successful in its attempt to portray the business world. Though it is merely a game on a screen, the game teaches general money management, and deals with random, unfortunate happenings that plague everyday business people. From UFOs to coal mine substances, this game always has something just around the corner.

The open world makes for a lot of freedom, and multiplayer lan servers can get very competitive, which adds to the challenge and FUN! Even as I play for 12th hour today, I am still addicted to this wonderful masterpiece! Bravo to the developers.Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 10.37.03 AM

Games=Serious Learning

By Bev Vaillancourt, Editorial Director

Conferences. A great place to network with other professionals and find out about the latest innovations – a place where creative intelligence is shared and inspired. This summer’s GLS (Games +Learning + Society) conference held at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and the Serious Play conference held at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, were perfect examples of this energized environment.

The game industry certainly is all-a-glow with designs that meet the interest of every gamer. Of particular relevance to me are games created for education. I was thrilled with what I saw coming from designers in the United States and abroad at both the GLS and Serious Play conferences. One game at the 2015 GLS conference that caught my particular interest, and garnered top honors, was “Czechoslovakia 1938 — 1989” created by game designers in Czechoslovakia. It portrays key moments in Czechoslovakia’s history through simulations and actual interviews, immersing players in history through the lens of oral history. Games such as Schell Game’s “Water Bears EDU,” a 3D puzzle game meant for grades 6 – 8 that won top honors at the 2015 Serious Play Conference, fosters systems thinking. “Happy Atoms,” another Schell Game currently in production, and the recipient of a $1M grant from the Department of Education, teaches molecular chemistry. I had the opportunity to experience the working prototype of this game, and I guarantee it’s going to spark quite a bit of high level interest in chemistry as kids build, identify, and learn about molecules within the joy of discovery.

I consider these professionally made games and think about what our Zulama students are creating as part of their game design courses for core subjects like history and science, and I marvel at their creativity and depth of knowledge. As Greg Toppo states in his insightful book, The Game Believes in You, games “consider how the parts of a system work together, how one decision affects another, and how everything affects the whole.”

For example, Zulama students at Elizabeth Forward High School in Pennsylvania created games for advance courses in math, history, and science. Zulama students at Harmony High School in Florida, created a game that queries and reinforces science concepts needed to successfully pass the AP Environmental Science test. The students used the computer programming skills they gained by taking Zulama’s Entertainment Technology courses, and worked as design teams, to build games that required them to dive into content not bound by a course assignment, and then shared the games they built with teachers within their school and beyond. What incredible learning and educational outreach.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 9.42.31 AMCreated by Zulama students at Elizabeth Forward High School, Elizabeth, PA

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Created by Zulama students at Harmony High School, Osceola, Florida.

Over the past month I’ve had the great privilege of working with new Zulama teachers in Massachusetts, Maine, and in southwestern New York. These high powered and creative educators are the first teachers in their states to bring Zulama to their classrooms. They join Zulama teachers in several other states that share the delightful challenge of engaging students in systems thinking, problem solving, team collaboration, iteration, and a deep investment in content knowledge through creative game design. Here students meet the standards through application of knowledge in an interest driven learning environment, assessed authentically through production of a game, created by a design team. It’s education that matters to kids.

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Educators in CABOCES, Olean, NY, with a mod of Nine Man Morris
Cattaraugus – Allegany BOCES

How to creatively merge Zulama’s Entertainment Technology curricula with existing curricula was a common topic of discussion among these new schools offering Zulama’s courses to their students.  Because Zulama’s courses become cornerstones of high interest learning for so many kids, teachers and administrators want to maximize course availability.  Moreover, given Zulama’s dual credit articulation agreements with several Art Institutes across the United States, advance learning and newly considered careers in the game industry are doors of opportunity waiting for students to kick open.  With that in mind, figuring out where and how to infuse Zulama’s courses into existing school offerings in an immediate way always becomes a lively and focused discussion among educators.

In most states Zulama’s courses are offered as electives. However, schools in New York can use courses that focus on computer science, such as Zulama’s GameMaker Programming and Unity 3D Programming courses, as core math or science courses, instead of electives that students have to somehow fit into an already packed day. This is an exciting and proactive approach that recognizes the high-level math skills and inquiry-based problem solving required to be successful in applying computer science skills in a game design environment.

Some teachers are combining their history or science courses with Evolution of Games or Game Design. Here students’ high interest in games ignites investment in the content presented in their textbooks and drives student-led research into other print and Internet-based sources. Other schools are using Zulama’s new 15 – 20 hour “short courses,” such as Coding with GameMaker, Storytelling in Games, and Games from American History, as after school offerings or as high interest catalysts infused into core curriculum courses such as algebra or literature.

What’s a game? At its core a game is a problem to solve. A game defines fun as a challenge enveloped by flow – that golden point in time where time stands still. Games provide an opportunity to immerse oneself in an educational experience within a social context that is welcoming, built by a culture of encouragement to try and try again until success is attained. Game design and game-based education need to lead, not follow, in our schools. It’s the power of positive change driven by design and collaboration. It’s students tackling real world problems through the application of meaningful learning within the context of challenges set forth in a game. It simply works.

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