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

Why Short Courses?

If you’re looking for a way to infuse game design, project-based learning and core competencies, such as collaboration, communication, and knowing how to work both independently and as a team into an English, Math, Science, Art, Social Studies, Tech or Zulama class that you are offering this year,  Zulama Short Courses might be the perfect solution. These courses are 12-20 hours long, so they are generally taught over the course of 3 weeks. We designed the course content for Middle School students, but it can be directed towards students of all ages depending on skill level.


More than a few wonderful educators in our community teach Zulama Short Courses, including Chris Lucas at West Allegheny. We asked him a few questions about his experience:

img_0904What did you enjoy most about teaching a Short Course?

I used the GameStar Mechanic Short Course as a supplement to my Game Design class. It worked really well. It gave me an opportunity to incorporate video game design principles along with the board games we were making. I liked how it was effective at giving the students a glimpse in video game design. They could put the principles we were learning in the course into practice.

How did your students react to the Short Courses?

The students loved the short course.  They really enjoyed seeing how the principles we learned in the Game Design class correlated into building a video game.  They also were able to submit their games to the STEM National Game Design Challenge.

img_0907What would you tell other teachers who are thinking of integrating Short Courses into their Middle School curriculum?

I think it would be great to incorporate into their Middle School curriculum. With each course being so short, the students would be able to get a glimpse into the different programs that will be offered at the high school.  It would also give the students experience with the software they will be using in high school, so it may allow for them to get into more advanced concepts in the high school courses.