The Maker Movement and Education

The Maker Movement and Education

Sarah Avery, Community Advocate, Educator

Sarah AveryWe all remember the iconic scene in The Sandlot where the boys try desperately to retrieve their lost ball. First, they start with a primitive pole, graduating to a pole with a pot on the end; but, their ingenuity does not end there. They end up breaking out the big guns when Smalls gathers every piece of his erector set to build an advance ball-retrieving machine.  Needless to say, despite their scientific approaches, they fail, but in their failure they find new and improved ways to attain their goal: retrieving the lost Babe Ruth ball.

This scene shows the true spirit of the Maker Movement: people collaborating on a project to create something that will solve a problem. A maker, boiled down to the barest of terms, is someone who makes, just as a gardener is someone who gardens and a writer is someone who writes.  If you create, invent, build, or engineer, you are a maker.

We need our students to be makers. A healthy economy is built on entrepreneurs, inventors, and start ups, and in recent years we have seen a resurgence of makers. Kickstarters, Esty, Pinterest are just a few websites that allow people to show off their creations. Pinterest, in particular, is famous for its expansive database of DIY projects. Though Pinterest is generally an adult social media outlet, our greatest makers are often students.  People under the age of 18 have less responsibilities and more curiosity, leading to free time devoted to inventing and discovering. One example of a young maker is Joey Huddy, 16 year old electrical engineering prodigy.  At the age of 12, he wowed President Obama with his marshmallow gun at the National Science fair.  Currently, he is finishing high school, applying for colleges, all while being the youngest Intel employee ever.  That is quite an accomplishment for the young man whose personal mantra is “Don’t be bored, make something.”  Thanks to Joey and millions of other makers in the US, in February 2014, the White House announced the first White House Maker Faire in the article, “Announcing the First White House Maker Faire” by Tom Kalil and Jason Miller.  On June 18th 2014, the White House held the Makers Faire designed to celebrate the return of ingenuity and creativity in the US. You

With the expansion of technology, the Maker Movement has taken off, like the industrial revolution of technology.  We need to ride that wave in our classrooms.  Exploration and discovery are the best methods of education. Through game design and project based learning, we can utilize students’ natural curiosity to enhance their educational experiences by essentially having them teach themselves while teachers facilitate.  In the past, teachers held the keys to knowledge, but through the Maker Movement and project based learning, everyone holds the keys and collaborates to learn.  Students are no longer sponges, passively soaking up information.  Learning and creating memories is an active process and we can take advantage of that by creating interactive projects and games designed to spark interest, enhance understanding, and create a sense of ownership for students’ education.

My most vivid memories from high school and middle school were when I was creating, researching, building, designing, and collaborating.  It instilled a sense of pride and accomplishment in my education.  That’s what we want to give to our students: a community built on educational pride and ownership.

In The Sandlot, the boys create a bond that lasts a lifetime. Through the challenges they face, their resourcefulness shines, giving the audience a clear image of what it means to be a maker: someone a part of a community that works together toward a common goal through discovery, inventiveness, and perseverance.


Teacher Spotlight: Mary Wilson


Teacher Spotlight

Mary Wilson

Elizabeth Forward High School

When Mary Wilson heard about the National STEM Video Game Challenge, she was obviously very excited.  She knew her students were up to the task, so she gave them the chance to compete nationally against other students.

With the deadline being only a few weeks away, her students have been hard at work perfecting their games.  In December, Elizabeth Forward held a school-day game-jam in its Media Center. After the teams were assembled and organized, the students came up with a game idea, and began designing and coding.  When creating teams, students thought strategically about the roles that need filled.  Each student has a position based on their strengths: artist, programmer, designer, or storyteller. These game design projects are great for promoting collaboration and showcasing 21st Century skills, truly a fantastic way to include all areas of STEAM.  Since the game- jam, Mary’s students have worked on their games in their free time while at home, in study hall, and after school in order to prepare for the challenge.

Past winners of the National Video Game Challenge have come from all over the country with topics ranging from biology, environmentalism, and leadership skills.  The lucky few present their games at the annual White House Science Fair and meet celebrities, like Bill Nye, and other top officials from various government agencies, like NASA. Nic Balida, a 2013 winner of the National STEM Video Game Challenge, discusses his experiences at the White House Science Fair in Allison Mishkin’s article, “STEM Challenge Winner Nic Badila Attends White House Science Fair.”

Nic says that “[t]he next generation is our future, and learning to program taught [him] that [he] can literally create whatever [he] want[s]. More kids need to do that.”1 This is exactly what Mary’s students do everyday.  She has them discovering, experimenting, and creating.  These are the skills our 21st century learners need to be successful and ones that are integral to the Maker Movement.

1 Mishkin, Allison. “STEM Challenge Winner Nic Badila Attends White House Science Fair.” 5 June 2014. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.

Zulama Teachers Shine in Osceola, Florida

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Zulama Teachers Shine in Osceola, Florida

Bev Vaillancourt, M.Ed, Educator, Editorial Director

Last August, Osceola County School District in sunny Florida introduced Zulama’s curriculum to three of its high schools. Teachers Jorge Arce and Lynn Vanderzyl, teachers with established gaming programs in their classrooms, and Laurie Connor, a newly hired teacher, attended training just short two weeks before the start of school and dove in. To the state’s credit, games and game design are included in the career frameworks established by the Florida Department of Education. John Cunningham of iCarnegie Global Learning had introduced Zulama’s curriculum to Osceola County School District. Tim Burdette, Career and Technical EducationProgram Specialist for the school district, connected with Zulama and took on the task of setting up Zulama in the district. Tim and a group of teachers also took a trip to Pennsylvania last December to visit Elizabeth Forward School District and the game design program at Carnegie Mellon University.

Thus, I had the opportunity last month to return to Florida to visit Zulama’s classrooms in Osceola County.

Lynn’s Classroom

2014-12-17 11.58.40My first stop was Lynn Vanderzyl’s classroom at Harmony High School. Lynn took a giant leap into Zulama by teaching four classes: Evolution of Games, GameMaker Programming, 3D Modeling, and Unity 3D Programming. Her Evolution of Games students had never taken any games course before this year, while her programming students were junior and seniors who already had had games courses using available software programs during their freshman and / or sophomore years. The difference is that this year all are enrolled in the sequenced curricula found in Zulama’s courses.

Lynn’s classroom is a traditional computer lab. One of her self-assigned tasks is to redesign her learning space to better accommodate Zulama’s project based learning activities. Lynn’s students work in pairs or individually at their computer stations as they manage their Zulama’s lessons, building games or creating 3D objects from a 2D wireframe. I watched Lynn with great admiration as she answered questions and encouraged iteration among the students enrolled in three different courses all tucked at once into the same classroom.

2014-12-17 12.44.54Lynn commented that one day she went to disperse a group of eight students huddled around a game board in her Evolution of Games course. Her class rule was that no more than four at a time could play a game. But, she did what all exceptional teachers do, she observed before she reacted, and she quickly noticed that all eight students were immersed in sharing game strategy. Every voice had purpose. What every teacher hopes will happen in a classroom – students immersed in the flow of a shared learning experience – existed in the corner of her classroom. These are the moments when classrooms become communities.

I spent some time talking with Stephen Scott, a senior in one of Lynn’s classes who obviously knows his way around Unity software. We chatted about the 21st Century skills he was developing as a result of the problem solving activities he managed while creating his Unity card game. “A school program that applies to the real world. Fascinating!” he said with great relish. “Yes!” was my silent cheer! This student had figured out far more than just how to code a video game. From that point forward, every bug he encountered and iterated in his growing knowledge of how to code would have the realization of life-skills application.

“A school program that applies to the real world. Fascinating!”

Laurie’s Classroom

The next day took me to Laurie Conner’s classroom at Celebration High School. Laurie obviously has embraced teaching Evolution of Games, turning her computer lab into a project based, student-centered classroom happening. Some in her classroom were working individually at computer stations on content lessons. Others were huddled over a game. “How do you like this class?” I asked a group of students. “Heads turned and looked up, all with relaxed faces that carried wide smiles. “Great!” they said in unison. I persisted. “So, what do you like best about the class?” More smiles. “This is the only class where we can socialize and learn about the history of games at the same time. It’s my best class.”

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Among the group was a special needs student who was very much part of the group dynamic. Curiosity peaked, I kept on probing. “So, what have you learned in this class?” With that they began telling me about the ancient games they had made. I was so impressed with all they had to share, and in the relaxed way they approached me as a visitor, and especially in the respectful manner in which they responded to my queries.

Then, it was Laurie’s turn. She introduced Alexander May, a senior who recently moved into the district. “Why don’t you show her your game story,” she suggested. He returned from a trip to his desk area with a small stack of papers. I skimmed through them and knew in a heartbeat that this is a young man with a ton of writing talent. “So, what do you plan to do with this? “ I inquired, “because it’s really quite good.” He related that he had found himself in game design and would like to write video games. His plans include working on Zulama courses second semester and applying to colleges to study games and game design. One class. One teacher who recognized a humble, young storywriter who naturally combined his writing talents with what he was learning about game design to draft the beginnings of an intricate online, multiplayer game. One class. A climate of possibilities.

“This is the only class where we can socialize and learn about the history of games at the same time. It’s my best class.”

Jorge’s Classroom

gameralityMy last classroom visit sent me back to the highway for a short trip to Poinciana High School. A walk across the school’s beautiful outdoor courtyard took me to the classroom of Jorge Arce. From the moment I opened the door, I knew immediately that I was entering a very special learning space. Game characters travel across all of the walls in Jorge’s room. I noticed an intriguing “GAMERTALITY” logo on the back of a student’s garment, and learned later that it represents a class game design business. Students were fully invested in working with the art designs that graced their computer screens. I’m not sure I ever stopped smiling the entire time I was in Jorge’s room. This is a classroom where games and game design are not only course offerings, but also avenues to post high school career dreams in digital art, game design, and computer programming.

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I left Jorge’s classroom and thought back to the three Osceola County School District classrooms I had had the privilege of visiting, and my mind traveled to other Zulama classrooms I’ve been to in Pennsylvania. I thought about the common theme that runs through all of them – purposeful industry. I have yet to be in a Zulama classroom where the students don’t walk in the room and go right to work, and then stall to be sure all is in order before leaving the room when the class period concludes. During the lunch period students filled Lynn Vanderzyl’s room at Harmony High School, not because they were assigned to be there, but because it was a place of true harmony for them.

I’d like to thank Tim Burdette for providing the opportunity for me to visit schools in Osceola County, and for accompanying me on my visits. He obviously knows his teachers and their programs well, and provides a wonderful base of support for all that they are accomplishing at their respective schools. Great things are happening in Osceola County, Florida. It’s wonderful to have its teachers and students joining the Zulama community, a community where students dare to dream big.


Games and Bloom’s Taxonomy

Games and Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bev Vaillancourt, M.Ed. Educator, Instructional Designer

blooms and GDProfessor Benjamin Bloom (University of Chicago) developed Bloom’s Taxonomy in the mid 1950s to explain the cognitive process. This hierarchy of learning begins with the acquisition of knowledge, involves information that is associated, applied, used to analyze and evaluate new facts and ideas, and eventually used to create (invent). Though seemingly dated, Bloom’s Taxonomy has stood the test of time. Today it is used to define learning objectives, develop test documents, and structure curriculums. When the process of game design is illustrated, it’s easy to see how games fit into the sequential order of critical thinking skills so clearly defined by Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Games are an invention. In order to develop a game, an individual needs to have content knowledge, understand how the principles of game design interconnect, create a product, and determine its market value. Authentic assessment occurs at every level. Feedback is absolute to the process. Success depends on iteration.

As important as traditional formative and summative assessments are in education, for they provide data that establishes benchmarks in overall district achievement, Bloom’s Taxonomy proves a basis for highly valued authentic assessment. Benjamin Bloom recognized this some seventy years ago. It remains ever more so today, given the dynamics of the 21st Century learning.

The key to success in a world defined by technology is entrepreneurship and invention. Benjamin Bloom peered into the educational demands of the 21st Century long before the millennium. With authentic assessment, the learning process is paramount, while judgment in the form of static grades takes a long step to the back. Iteration is emphasized as students search for ways to improve a product.

Designing and playing games deepens content knowledge, strengthens collaborative skills, and builds appreciation for the talents of others. The critical thinking skills developed through the process of game design become internalized. As Bloom stated in 1969 in summarizing the most important role of schools, “They [students] won’t remember everything for the next ten years, but they must be adequately prepared for the next learning task….”1 Game design prepares them for the next learning task and beyond.

1 A Conversation with Benjamin Bloom, Educational Leadership, November 1979, p 157 – 161.

Educating for Social and Media Literacy

Educating for Social and Media Literacy

Beverly Vaillancourt, M.Ed, Educator

1In 2012, the Pew Research Center studied Internet use by teens and adults. The project results indicate that “fully 95 percent of all teens ages 12 – 17 are now online.”1 As part of the same study, the Pew Research Center also concluded that “Facebook is a major center for teenage social interactions, both with the positives of friendship and support and the drama of negatives and social expectations.”2 Clearly, social literacy skills are an integral part of the lives of high school students. Understanding how to nurture positive communication and collaborate in online environments are fast becoming a critical skillset for teens and adults.

Social literacy is tightly bound with media literacy, defined as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate information in both print and not print venues. Without a doubt, today’s students live in digital worlds that include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many other online social media sites, sites that certainly enhance the definitions of “community” and “friend.”

Findings from the Pew Internet study underscore the power of digital media in the lives of teens: 1

  • 94% of teens have Facebook accounts
  • 91% post photos of themselves
  • 82% post about their personal preferences for books, music, and movies
  • 75% of all teens text
  • 62% percent post about their personal relationships
  • 46% of app users turned off location tracking features on their phones because of privacy concerns
  • 29% exchange messages daily on social networking sites

Social media sites, however, are not the only place teens are connecting online. Video games play a major role in online communication. A national study of teen game play by the Pew Research Center gleaned the following data:

“Fully 99% of boys and 94% of girls play video games. Younger teen boys are the most likely to play games, followed by younger girls and older boys. Older girls are the least “enthusiastic” players of video games, though more than half of them play. Some 65% of daily gamers are male; 35% are female…

For most teens, gaming is a social activity and a major component of their overall social experience. Teens play games in a variety of ways, including with others in person, with others online, and by themselves. Although most teens play games by themselves at least occasionally, just one-quarter (24%) of teens only play games alone, and the remaining three-quarters of teens play games with others at least some of the time.

    • 65% of game-playing teens play with other people who are in the room with them.
    • 27% play games with people who they connect with through the internet.
    • 82% play games alone, although 71% of this group also plays with others.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of teens who play games report seeing or hearing “people being mean and overly aggressive while playing,” and 49% report seeing or hearing “people being hateful, racist, or sexist” while playing. However, among these teens, nearly three-quarters report that another player responded by asking the aggressor to stop at least some of the time. Furthermore, 85% of teens who report seeing these behaviors also report seeing other players being generous or helpful while playing.” 3

Video games can be a powerful tool for helping individuals learn how to communicate in highly engaging environments and, importantly, to discern among communications that hold positive or negative messages. Video games tie the visual experience to the human experience to produce critical outcomes that impact the game, but also impact the individual as a gamer. Failure becomes opportunity for advancement with iteration and perseverance. Optimism abounds with success gained through newly acquired skills. Collaboration and opportunities for leadership are absolutes in any video game environment. These lifelong skills, seen as ideal student attributes by classroom teachers, clearly are sharpened by playing video games.

To say the least, social and media literacy skills have become as integral to individuals participating in online video game environments as when interacting on social media sites.

Today everyone who logs onto the Internet is an entrepreneur of some sort because our digital environments serve to promote civic, political, and social justice ideas. The Internet invents as it promotes thought. The study of game design fosters the Four Cs” of 21st century skills: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. With game design, students evaluate media tools used by others to communicate, and importantly evaluate tools used to promote ideas. In essence, through the study of game design, students learn to discern the social implications of how media is used to communicate and invent.

The interest driven quality inherent in the study of game design has far reaching educational benefits. Schools that employ both a study of games and game design, coupled with use of video games for content delivery and assessment of knowledge, bring together the best of what highly engaging social literacy and media literacy experiences have to offer students. These skills will remain essential as students as they move into adult lives where highly dynamic digital communications drive both personal and job-related decisions.

With vast qualities of information at one’s fingertips, perhaps social and media literacy will prove to be the most critical skills students must gain in high school, and with that drive a dynamic paradigm shift in high school curriculums and learning spaces. Schools must adjust, and quickly, to the dynamics and demands of the social and political impacts of the digital world. It just makes sense that the study of games and game design becomes central to that all-important paradigm shift.