Five Ways to Make the Most of Computer Science PD

By: Rachel Hegarty, Zulama Support Guru

So you’ve just signed up for a computer science professional development course for this summer (or you’re about to)! As our students know, a new learning experience can be both exciting and a little nerve-wracking. Here are five ways you can make the most of your PD:

1. Don’t be afraid to jump in and mess around.

Playing with a new technology is often the best way to learn it and GameMaker has some great tutorials. Consider your five-year-old and how quickly she figured out your smartphone!

Games and learning computer science

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

In the Zulama and CSTA Computer Science and Game Design PD course, the Support button is your friend, as is our customer service crew. If we don’t have the answer for you ourselves, we’ll work hard and quickly to find it out. But first, ASK. If your PD doesn’t provide customer service, ask another teacher or check for forums. Inquiry is part of learning, after all, and that’s what we’re all in the business of doing.

3. Don’t be afraid to fail.

Really. Please. A failed game build or line of code is just an iteration, and iterative development is the way to design anything. Failure is good. Failure teaches.

Computer Science Teacher Professional Development

4. Don’t be afraid to play.

Building games can be an exciting avenue into CS. And if you build games, you should definitely play games. Ask your students what games they’re playing and try them out. You’ll better understand where you can go with CS and ways you can teach CS principles if you can speak your students’ language.

5. Don’t be afraid to dream.

As you work through your course, think about things you could do in your classroom to reinforce and explore CS principles. What can gaming and coding do for you? What can it do for your students?

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Haven’t signed up for a CS PD program yet for this summer? Check out the Computer Science and Game Design course, co-designed by the CSTA and Zulama! You’ll learn game design and programming skills, earning a Computer Science and Game Design Certificate.

Sign up for our Computer Science & Game Design PD here!

Why Game Design Is an Awesome Introduction to Computer Science

By Lily Taylor, Community Advocate

Lynn Vanderzyl was new to teaching high school computer science (CS), and she started out in the logical placeteaching a programming course using Visual Basic, Python, and Java. Unfortunately, the course wasn’t engaging her students: “My classes were too small and they dropped my program.” The following year, the course was redesigned with a focus on game design, with students working together to build video games and learn CS in the process. And it worked!

“They are still learning to code but they don’t realize it.” —Lynn Vanderzyl

Student demand for this course was so high that Lynn offered four gaming classes in the first year, and all of them were full. She’s since added two more advanced game programming courses and loves the projects that her students create each year.

Why is game design an awesome introduction to computer science?

As a part of our Computer Science and Professional Development blog series, we asked CS and game design students, teachers, and professionals that question. A few answers showed up consistently:

  • Games make CS relatable.
  • Games help students understand why they’re coding.
  • Games prepare the next generation to shape society.

 

“It’s culturally relevant for kids.”

Before students can learn CS, they have to want to learn to CS. And as Lynn discovered, a love of gaming can draw a lot of different students into a computer lab. Schell Games game designer, Sabrina Culyba, sums up why students get so excited to take a CS course when it is based around gaming:

“It’s culturally relevant for kids. They play games. Their peers play games. By leveraging game design and game creation, you give kids a reason for computer science to be meaningful as an everyday tool that helps them create and express themselves.” Sabrina Culyba

 

Students see the tangible results of their code.

Games are more than just a gateway into CS; they can also serve as long-term learning tools. James Staffen, an undergraduate CS major at Penn State and a former Zulama student, is a big believer in learning CS by designing games. He started programming in high school and knows how challenging the learning process can be.

“When you are coding just to learn coding, you don’t understand what the point of it is. When you are coding to build a game, you can easily see the results of your code, the point of coding, the power of coding.” —James Staffen

Lynn agrees that it is thrilling for students to see the “immediate results” of their code. She adds that this fun experience leads students to want to dig deeper: “Once they get a simple game going they want to add more to it. The only way to add to it is to learn more coding.”

 

 

Game design prepares student programmers to shape society.

What are the bigger-picture implications of learning CS through building games? How do we want the next generation of computer scientists and programmers to think, communicate, and design? Sabrina Culyba explains that games help students develop empathy, a key to using computing skills effectively in the real world.

“Good game design requires you to consider your players—what are you trying to help them feel, understand, achieve? This mindset of designing to meet the needs and desires of others is a critical skill for us to cultivate in students as they grow up to build the next technologies that will shape our society.” —Sabrina Culyba

Sabrina’s point raises the question: What other skills, along with empathy, do student programmers need in order to grow into positive, powerful forces in modern society? At Zulama, we believe that collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity (if we were cooler we’d call them the 4Cs) are vital skills for all students to develop. Traditional CS courses don’t always focus on helping students build those skills. But when students work together to make games, they naturally tap into their creativity, talk to each other, and solve problemsall while learning the principles of computer science.

 

Game Review: Superfight

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 3.32.38 PMLast Thursday, the Pittsburgh office Zulama team’s game lunch resulted in hilarity. We chose to play the game Superfight with the core 500-card deck.

There are two card types: characters and powers. We came across a wide variety of characters, from a Samurai, to an Emperor Penguin, to a Girl scout. The characters were all paired with equally interesting “powers,” from superglue with a firehose, to a  glitter shooter, to the pope-mobile. In our short two-round game, we found endless amusing combinations.

While there are many ways to play Superfight, we decided to use an individual judging method. In our gameplay, two players from our group randomly chose a character card and a power card. With the other members listening, they debated the outcome of a battle between the two characters for approximately three minutes. By strengthening our reasoning skills, we were able to find logic within the illogical, silly scenarios and present arguments to convince our listeners why certain characters would win in the contest. Once the debaters’ three minutes were up, the listeners had a minute to discuss the arguments and decide the outcome of the battle. After playing, our Pittsburgh team discussed the possible ways to play Superfight, from team to tournament style, in addition to the recommended four gameplay types. There seems to us no one-way to play this game; rather, it can be easily modified to fit any size group or setting.

To create additional challenges, expansion packs are available that include locations and different themes. Who would win if a glitter-shooting Pikachu fought an emotional George Foreman while riding a rollercoaster? I would be interested in seeing the orange deck that specifically references sci-fi and fantasy trivia (Anyone want to see Martha Stewart armed with the One Ring battle Spock who is trapped inside a giant hamster wheel?), or the purple deck that adds an extra something to your scenarios (are you ready for a contest on a floor made of lava?).

There are some power cards that may not be suitable for all classrooms. The game is centered around fighting (some power cards involve “knife throwing,” “armed with nunchucks,” etc.). However, these violent cards can be removed from your deck, leaving the silly power cards to be used, including “afraid of their own shadow” and “drank five energy drinks.” To further remove violence, the rules advocate for changing the purpose of the debate from who would win a battle to who is the funniest or would be a better nanny. You can even decide who might make the better plumber: a racoon who is really good at parkour or King Kong who can fly at the speed of molasses? There are many ways to make Superfight appropriate for any classroom.

With the endless possibilities available with this game, students could make their own versions to enhance their classroom knowledge. How interesting would it be to play a game like this in a History class (In a contest between Alexander the Great and Napoleon, who might win?), or in an English class (Which character is more idealistic: Don Quixote or Jane Bennet?)?

Though it was one of the most amusing games I’ve ever played, as a group, we decided we might not want to play Superfight all the time; location and audience factor into the enjoyment of gameplay. However, we all agreed we would love to play this game in the future and it would be great in an educational setting!

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Escape Room Pittsburgh: Prison

IMG_1226The clock is ticking down. You’re trying to figure out the final clue to unlock the door. Only one more minute, but you’re so close to cracking the code!

Last week the Zulama staff took field trip to Escape Room Pittsburgh, an interactive, immersive puzzle game. Filled with riddles, gadgets, and mind tricks, the main goal is to crack the code that will allow you to escape before time runs out. Left with a choice between the Prison and the Mad Scientist’s Laboratory, we chose to take our turn in the slammer. As you’ll see, some of us were happier about this than others!

IMG_1227Without giving up too much away, the trying to escape the prison was an experience unlike any other! The most important thing was to communicate about all of the clues we were finding. About 55 minutes in, we had the code to unlock the door. But we couldn’t figure out that we needed to type in the last symbol that would have allowed up to escape. Understandably, our group was frustrated, but undoubtedly ready to give the next room a go!

Learn more about the national Escape Room craze here and check our review below!

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Espace Room Game Review

Interview with a Teenager

Interview with a Teenager:

Tips for Communicating with Students about Game Violence

IMG_7964By Sarah Avery, Zulama Community Advocate, Educator

Last week I sat down with my sister to talk about video games in education. During our discussion the topic of violence in videogames came up. As a teenager who is often exposed to media of all sorts, including violent media, she had some advice for parents and teachers who struggle with teenage consumption of media.

  1. Open a channel of communication with your student.  In order to do this, parents and teachers must be open to students’ opinions and respectful towards what they have to say.  By inviting them into a supportive environment, you as the parent or teacher will have more room to discuss what the student wants to share with you.  #Communicate
  2. Ask the student how they feel they are doing in the virtual world.  The easiest way to start a discussion is to ask specific questions about the games, shows, or movies they watch.  It’s not enough to ask general questions.  We all know the “how was school today” question can get limited responses, but asking about a specific teacher or favorite class can get discussions going.  Try asking about the most recent level they beat, goal they accomplished, or challenge where they are struggling. #ShowInterest
  3. Be educated about popular games.  It’s important for parents and teachers to know more about a game than just a title.  You must know the context and goal of the game. Two games that have the same goal may have drastically different game play, one game might only be jumping over mushrooms and another might have guns.  Just be educated about different games your student wants to play.  #EducateYourself
  4. Setting expectations is good. Each student needs to learn that there are things expected of them and in order to earn and deserve respect from the outside world, they need to respect themselves. To do this they need to understand that accepting responsibilities for their actions is always best.  So, teachers and parents need to make their expectations known and realistic.  Your student will mess up, but positive reinforcement is best.  #RespectYourself

These are her closing thoughts: “The use of the Internet can be a great benefit and comes with the power of knowledge, “but with great power comes great responsibility” #Spiderman #UncleBen.”