Six Questions to Help You Find the Perfect PD

Teachers: Are you getting ready for your own summer of learning? Start by asking yourself a few questions that will help you figure out exactly what kind of program you need.

We know many of you are committed to your own learning, as well as your students’. For example, “three in five teachers are willing to spend their own time to learn more about computer science” (Google, 2017). Professional development (PD) should be a great experience–helping you meet your goals and engage your students–but that isn’t always the case. Starting with a little prep work can help you find that exceptional experience and leave you more prepared and excited about bringing new skills to your students.

Computer Science Teacher

Zulama is currently focused on supporting teachers who are looking for computer science PD, but the following essential questions can be applied to professional learning experiences of all kinds. These questions will help you figure out what PD will be the most fun and fruitful for you, and lead to the most engaging experiences for your students.

1. How much time do I have available to commit to PD?

Start with the basics. PD can range from three days of in-person workshops to 30 hours of self-paced online learning, so find the one that matches up best with your schedule. Teachers say that longer-term PD serves them better in their teaching practice (Gates Foundation, 2014), so consider options that let you pace yourself over time. For example, PD with an online component gives teachers the ability to continue returning to the course over the span of a semester or year. You’ll be less worried about running out of time, which means you’ll be able to tinker, play, and discover throughout your PD experience.

2. What is my end goal for participating in a PD opportunity?

Do your goals match up with the goals of the PD you are interested in? Is a given course preparing you to teach a specific course in the short-term or helping you build an adaptive set of skills? If you are looking to develop yourself as a professional in the long-run, make sure that the PD offering is aiming to involve you in an interactive project-based learning experience. The general consensus among teachers is the best PD programs “…involve hands-on strategies for the teacher to actually participate in” (Gates Foundation, 2014).

3. Which do I prefer, an independent or mentorship-based learning experience?

An online PD experience inevitably means more independence. This leads to perks including more flexibility and the ability to work at your own pace. In-person PD, on the other hand, allows for face-to-face connections, leading to a more disciplined use of your time. We often recommend combining online and in-person PD experiences as we find that the two together lead to the deepest learning.

4. Do I want to learn from fellow educators?

Find out who is driving the PD program you are considering. Have the PD leaders spent much time in the classroom? Was the program crafted by teachers like you who have experience bringing new skills and learning practices to students? Most teachers have had the best PD experiences when they know that the creators of the program have been in their shoes.

5. How much money is available to me for PD?

We ask this question next to last because it’s important to not let cost get in the way of finding the most effective, engaging PD for you. While price is a significant factor to consider, teachers and schools have found various creative ways to get outside funding for PD programs, and you can too.

6. Now… what’s out there?

Each PD program will have pros and cons, but there plenty of options are out there, so you can find one that suits your needs! For example, here is a chart that makes sense of some current computer science PD offerings:

Computer Science Professional Development

——

This post was adapted from a Zulama article in the CSTA Voice about selecting teacher PD that is tailored to your needs.

This post is part of a blog series in support of our new professional development opportunity, the Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, co-developed with the Computer Science Teachers Association. For more on the intersection of computer science and professional development, read the previous posts in the series:

How Games Can Bring Storytelling to Life in Your Classroom

By: Chris Klug, Assistant Teaching Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and Anna Roberts, Head of Outreach at Zulama

As games continue to evolve and attract broader audiences, they have become sophisticated vehicles for storytelling—putting the player (i.e., audience) at the center of an experience and giving them the power to bring the narrative to life. Story-rich games like Journey, FireWatch, This War of Mine, or Dungeons & Dragons engage your emotions and immerse you in new worlds. Could these qualities of story-rich games help engage your students, introducing them to unique and exciting learning experiences?

“I’m not sure I would have been able to transition from reader to
writer so easily if it had not been for gaming.”
—Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author

Game stories draw from the same core principles that writers have used to craft stories for millennia. Most games have a plot, characters, a theme, and dialogue, making them exciting for students to explore as writers and “readers.” This post examines some of the similarities and differences between games and traditional storytelling, providing tools and inspiration for bringing games and game narratives into your creative writing or literature classes.

What’s the Same? What’s Different?

Point of View

All stories have a Point of View that determines whose eyes the reader experiences the story through. In games, that Point of View is always first person because the player is the protagonist—deciding where to go, interacting with the world, and making decisions that impact the game.

More on First Person and Third Person in Games
If you’ve played games before, you may have heard them referred to as first person (playing the game through the protagonist’s eyes) or third person (playing the game as the protagonist, viewing them from the outside). But those references are to your perspective through the graphics, not the character’s Point of View in the story.

First-Person Perspective in What Remains of Edith Finch by Giant Sparrow Gam

Third-Person Perspective in Journey by thatgamecompany

 

Structure

Most stories draw from a traditional three-act structure that the character moves through, and game narratives are no different.

Act 1: The Beginning
Here the story introduces the major characters and the Inciting Incident, the event or decision that begins the story’s problem and sets the story in motion. For example, in Gone Home the story begins with Katie, the protagonist, returning from a trip to Europe to find a locked, empty house. The Inciting Incident is an ominous letter left on the front door from someone named Sam.


Gone Home by The Fullbright Company

Act 2: The Middle
This is where the story develops, where the protagonist encounters a series of obstacles and setbacks that creates rising Tension. At times, the protagonist (aka player) may feel like they’re getting further from their goal, and even need to learn new skills or strategies in order to progress. An interesting challenge arises in writing Act 2 of game narratives. As the protagonist, the player experiences setbacks more directly than one might when reading a novel. The game’s writer must keep that experience in mind, providing challenges but ensuring that the player still feels like they are making progress.

Act 3: End
Here the protagonist encounters the Climax and wraps up any loose ends. The protagonist must use all that they’ve learned so far in the story to tackle the hardest challenge of them all. In games this is often referred to as “the Boss Fight,” but in story-rich games it might not be a fight at all. In What Remains of Edith Fitch one of the final scenes brings two stories together, merging fantasy and reality, and forcing the player to do different actions with each hand as they move between the storylines.

Emotion

Like traditional stories, story-rich games can make a player feel things in intense ways—the fear of entering a dark room, the joy of mastering an especially hard mission, the discomfort of an awkward situation, or the sadness of losing a beloved companion. Games are great at evoking some emotions and aren’t so great at others.

Games Aren’t Great at: Empathy
While empathy is often used in traditional stories to stir the reader’s emotions, that’s not so in games. The player is a direct agent who makes decisions and choices, so the emotions they feel are typically built through those experiences. The player is much more like an actor in a play rather than the audience watching the play.

Games Are Great at: Guilt
One emotion that is easy to evoke in games is guilt, which is almost impossible to elicit in traditional storytelling. Guilt occurs when a person believes (accurately or not) that they have compromised their own standards of conduct or a moral standard. As readers of traditional stories we’re passive, we can empathize or feel sad but we can’t compromise ourselves through the experience. Games charge the player with making decisions as the protagonist, letting them choose how they’ll play (moral vs immoral) or presenting them with hard choices that impact the game or other characters.

A recent example from Anna’s own gaming experience:
I’ve been playing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, a game where one class of people (the augmented) is being oppressed by the larger population. In one part of the game, I (as the protagonist, Jensen) had to sneak into government offices to obtain documents that would help two people escape the city. When I arrived, I found out I could only save one of them and had to quickly choose between the two. I had met both of these characters, knew their stories and what they would face if they didn’t leave. The decision was a guilt-ridden one for me that lingered well after I had stopped playing.

Games Leave Room for the Player

One of the biggest functional differences in storytelling in games is that the game has to make room for the player–giving the player varying levels of freedom to interact, explore, and make choices within the game. This difference changes how the author needs to think about writing and even designing the story. From the moment of inspiration, game writing is a problem-solving exercise: creating a world and moving the player between major plot points, while also making room for the player to feel active and make decisions.

“In a game, you’re going to have to allow for player agency—the player needs to exert some control over the narrative’s direction . . . [this] changes how the story is laid out, and the tools a writer has at their disposal. ”
—Bill Gaider, Senior Writer at Bioware

An Analogy
Imagine that the writing process is like driving a car through the woods at night and the road is your story. If you’re writing fiction or poetry, it’s possible to just drive and discover the road as your headlights light the way. When writing a game, you need to know the end point and major intersections before you start driving. You’ll still discover details along the way that create a rich experience, but you have to understand the map first. (Of course, this approach can be used in traditional storytelling as well, it’s just mandatory when writing games.)

Bringing Games Into Your Classroom

Interesting, huh? And that’s just the start! Here are a few resources and ideas that could help you bring games into your classes:

Lucid Learning: Gone Home in a High School English Class

Paul Darvasi has done a bunch of cool things with games in his high school English classes. Paul’s blog details his experience using Gone Home as a literary text in three senior English classes. He provides “everything a teacher needs to know to duplicate the experience and, hopefully, build on it.”

Zulama Courses

Storytelling in Games
Zulama offers a 15-hour course called Storytelling in Games that is perfect for bringing game narratives into middle school English classes. In the course students create a game story through The Hero’s Journey.

Screenwriting
We also offer a full-semester Screenwriting course (co-developed with Chris) that helps high school students understand, critique, and write dramatic stories for movies, games, and television.

Computer Science and Game Design Certificate (professional learning)
If you want to learn more about games and game design yourself, the Computer Science and Game Design Certificate is a great option! Offered jointly by the Computer Science Teachers Association and Zulama, this 30-hour online course is a fun, rigorous introduction to both computer science and game design concepts.

Edutopia: Using Games for Serious Learning in High School

Social Studies teacher Matt Farber has written a book on game-inspired learning. In this Edutopia article he dives into a few more great story-rich games and how they could be used in schools to enhance students’ learning.

—–

This post is part of a blog series in support of our new professional development opportunity, the Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, co-developed with the Computer Science Teachers Association. For more on the intersection of computer science and professional development, read the previous posts in the series:

When There’s a Will There’s a Way: Getting Creative with Funding Computer Science Education

Four years ago, educators in Butler County, Ohio were facing a crisis. They wanted to implement modern curriculum and teacher training in schools across the county in order to re-engage students and prepare them for the rapidly changing job market. But, like in many other regions, Butler County’s resources were scarce. Before the educators could even think about making a change, they got stuck on one question: “Can we afford this?”

In their moment of doubt, they were able to turn the way they were thinking about funding inside out. They flipped the question from, “Can we afford this?” to, “Which organization can fund this?” It was not a matter of whether or not the funds were available, but a matter of who could provide the funds. This shift in thinking set them free!

The Butler County Educational Service Center put together a grant proposal for Ohio’s Straight A Fund. And . . . voila! A new curriculum aimed at impacting 3,028 students from grades 7 to 12, was implemented in Butler County’s classrooms. Students across the region were:


  • designing games for their programming course
  • writing stories for a screenwriting course
  • building digital portfolios to showcase their projects

 

 

You too can find creative ways to pay for curriculum or professional development. And once you recognize there is plenty of available funding out there, you can think less about the price tag and more about the number of students a program would impact or how fun a PD experience would be.

Whether you are a teacher or a school leader, tons of grant programs are available to you—and made specifically for you.

Resources for Finding Grant Programs

Grant Programs for School Leaders

Grant Programs for Teachers

Going Free-Form

You can get even more creative when it comes to finding funding. One way is looking to local companies for support. For example, you might send a funding proposal to a local technology company, and ask them to sponsor your school’s computer science PD. For decades, schools have fostered successful partnerships with local businesses:

“Since 1990, the Lees Summit (Mo.) School District has worked with 250 local business partners, including corporations that send experts to the high school’s marketing classes and local banks that deploy volunteers to help teach math in elementary classrooms. For even longer, the Anchorage (Alaska) Public Schools has cultivated relationships with 500 local businesses and organizations, which do everything from providing mentors to funding school projects.” (District Administration, 2012 via EdSurge, 2016.)

If you are writing a grant proposal or business partner proposal from scratch, here are some foundational questions to start with (adapted from the CS4HS Google Grant Questions):

  • What kinds of organizations, local offices of education, etc. are you working with or planning to work with in developing and implementing this opportunity?
  • What are up to five learning objectives your opportunity will achieve?
  • What is the learning format and agenda?
  • How is the content relevant to computer science?
  • How will you make sure concepts are taught effectively in the classroom? (You may want to include a quotation from a teacher who has taken the PD course or used the curriculum before.)
  • How will you measure success?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What are your expenses?
  • How much funding are you requesting?

—–

This post is part of a blog series in support of our new professional development opportunity, the Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, co-developed with the Computer Science Teachers Association. For more on the intersection of computer science and professional development, read the previous posts in the series:

 

Welcoming a New School 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!

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 4.40.28 PM

Elizabeth Forward Teacher and Zulama Consultant, Mary Wilson, working with teachers to learn GameSalad, GameMaker, and Unity at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and Zulama Game Design Collaboration Workshop. Picture taken by Norton Gusky

In addition, we’ve been working on ways to become more accessible to our community. 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, administrators, parents, and other members of the Zulama Community!

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

#ZMoments: Tweet in your favorite Zulama Class moments of the week!

#ZFamFriday: Each Friday we nominate an outstanding member of the Zulama Community. Tweet in your nominations for star teachers, students, and administrators in the Zulama Community on Fridays and we’ll give them a shout out!

#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! We live tweet the discussion and would love for you 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 with industry professionals!
We’re always looking for topics of interest to students! So, if there are any topics your students want to learn about send their ideas and questions to us via Twitter, Facebook, or email at sarah.avery@zulama.com 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 sarah.avery@zulama.com!

GameReviewdocument

We’ll review the game review submissions and select one to feature in one of our newsletters!
Not sure if your students have time review games, but still think it’s a great idea? Use this activity as a professional development/team building event! All submissions (even ones from teachers, administrators, and parents) are welcome!

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 with us on our social media or shoot us an email at info@zulama.com or sarah.avery@zulama.com!

UnknownUnknown-1Unknown

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 4.45.33 PM