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?

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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:

 

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.

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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 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.

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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.

 

Spotlight on Oak Hill Middle School, Sabattus, ME

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Pat Hasch introduced her 7th grade geography class to Zulama in September, 2015. We are delighted to share how she creatively blended her geography lessons with Evolution of Games.

By Pat Hasch

My 7th grade geography class is not only studying the regular course materials, but is deeply involved in Evolution of Games. One of the main learning targets is: How does where you live affect how you live?

Using Zulama, students are able to understand the culture of many places by:

  • reading the material,
  • researching,
  • playing the many different games, and
  • understanding how these games are a part of the heritage of the countries studied.

We have learned to play games, to modify them, replicate them, and appreciate the workmanship involved in creating the games. All this while learning history, geography, and about ourselves as learners and teachers.

In lesson 23 the students created a Parcheesi board. We read and discussed the lesson and assignment together. I gathered up boards for them to use to make a nice game to keep and be used for the future. As a class, the students made the scoring rubric by which they would be graded. They were actually tough on themselves, striving for near perfection.

We spent about one week of class time measuring, drawing and finalizing the product before we enjoyed playing the game. It was quite interesting to watch the students figure out how to do all the planning, measuring and drawing!

This has been their best work yet! They are all very proud of the finished product. Upon completion the students wrote a reflection about what they learned. They have really stepped it up since the beginning of the Zulama course.


India Module

By Christian St. Hilaire, 7th grade student, Oak Hill Middle School

The module on India was fascinating. I was able to retain the information better by connecting with games that I’m connected with. By showing games like Parcheesi and Chess, I was able to learn in a fun and interactive way. That is why I personally love the Zulama program. The India unit however struck my interest more than usual.

I was able to learn about ancient India by making the presentation on the Gupta Empire. It allowed me to get a basis, then move on studying. I learned so many things that I would have never learned if it wasn’t for Zulama. Being a fan of math, it was really interesting to learn that the very fundamentals of math came from the same time and place my favorite board game, Chess, was made.

The discussion on Chess helped me open up and learn about the game further. By being able to express my thoughts I was more motivated to learn and study it. Then I was able to reread and understand the section better.

Making the Parcheesi gameboard allowed me to understand more about the game itself, as well as its background. It helped me further my understanding of the Gupta Empire, and India as a whole. During the process, I had to work hard to understand how these people felt. First, I had to draw my lines precisely with a pencil. Then I had to fill them in with a permanent marker. Then I colored the spaces correctly and precisely. The pieces were provided, so I didn’t have to worry. It was a rough process that took a bit of time, but it is one that I could be proud of.

In conclusion, Zulama is an amazing way to teach kids history in a fun and interactive way. Zulama is one of the best programs that I have ever been taught on. I feel very privileged to be able to use it on a daily basis.

Engaging Students Using Game Design

Guest Post by Brian Wetzel, Zulama Certified Trainer and Star Teacher

pic04Who is not interested in games? Games build relationships, teach the concept of rules, and, in serious games, promote the idea of consequences in choices we make. Most games also provide the opportunity to spark creativity in style, gameplay, and strategy. Creating them utilizes a multitude of skills, including elements of STEAM, and other 21st century skills, such as problem-solving and collaboration.

As a game designer, one must consider all these factors when brainstorming the creation of the next big game. Whether that game is a board game, card game, or video game is irrelevant. Game designers must make their games easy to learn, hard to master, and adaptable to different styles and preferences, among other characteristics. Otherwise, a game can be doomed from the beginning.

pic07As a teacher of game design, I make every attempt to ensure my students understand these characteristics and plan for them at the beginning. Elements of STEAM present themselves instantaneously and consistently throughout the process. In the early phases of design, artistic elements are used when drawing and designing graphics that will be used in the game. Engineering skills such as 3D modeling are often considered for game pieces and/or characters. Mathematics is constantly used when deciding proper size and proportions as well as distances that are necessary to be traveled for game sprites. Finally, in most cases, technology is used for the creation of each of these pieces.

As I continue to help my students in their quests to become game designers, I hope to see consistent progression of these skills. While I do not teach traditional courses like science and math, I have already witnessed progress in the areas of curiosity and creativity. My students are growing into young adults who are more curious about their mistakes and why they are occurring. They don’t rely on me as much to explain the problem(s), but rather take it upon themselves to explore what they have done to create the problem. Most importantly, they don’t see their mistakes as failure, but rather learning experiences.

BxL9r4VIYAA9gJ6As I continue to help create the gamemakers of tomorrow, I hope to get feedback of the same fashion from their other teachers. I hope this curiosity spreads to other areas of their lives. I am sure it will. In my opinion, this growing sense of motivation and curiosity is not a switch they can turn off. It will become habit in all areas of their lives. They will continue to seek understanding rather than just ask for answers. And although they will continue to make mistakes, to them, it will only translate to more learning.

Brian Wetzel

Upon completing his undergraduate work, Brian began teaching in 2005. For the first seven years of his career, he served as a 7th grade mathematics teacher for the Licking Heights Local School District. During this time, he saw the value of technology in education and decided to pursue this interest by earning his Master’s degree in Educational Technology. Upon completing his graduate degree, Brian transitioned into teaching technology-related courses at the high school level for Centerburg Local Schools. As he continues his career, Brian plans to help students enhance their technology skills as well as help other educators learn ways to integrate technology into their curricula.