Breaking: Zulama Joins AT&T Aspire Accelerator’s 2017 Cohort

We are thrilled to announce that we’ve been selected for the 2017 class of the AT&T Aspire Accelerator program! Now in its third year, the program brings together startups that are tackling the most pressing challenges in education.

This year’s class puts us alongside seven other innovative ed-tech organizations. During our time in the program, we’ll receive financial investment, mentorship and access to expert services from AT&T and others. The Aspire Accelerator is part of AT&T Aspire, the company’s $400 million commitment since 2008 to support education and connect the learning revolution to the young people who need it most.

We can’t wait to get started. Learn more here and stay tuned for updates.

Teaching 21st Century Learners

Norton Gusky, Educational Consultant

In the late 1990s the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) created a framework for learning in the new millennium. Yet, just over fifteen years into the new century it’s already time to rethink the P21 framework. First there was the 3Rs. Then came the 4Cs—communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. To this, P21 added life and career skills and information and media skills. Today in order to meet the needs of 21st Century learners we need to build out the skill set further to include computational thinking, entrepreneurial spirit, and dispositions like persistence.

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 2.30.50 PM


In its educational leadership role, the South Fayette School District, located south of Pittsburgh,  has developed an articulated K-12 model for learning that addresses all the key elements of the P21 framework. Called “STEAM Fusion”, South Fayette’s model integrates engineering and design problem-based learning. Going one step further its model pulls in elements of computational thinking, career connections, and entrepreneurial spirit.  This article brings to light the South Fayette model in an interview with Aileen Owens, the Director of Technology and Innovation. In addition, this article will share the perspective of Jerry Cozewith, the executive director of Entrepreneuring Youth, a non-profit organization in PIttsburgh that targets minority and underserved youth in grades 6-12.

The South Fayette STEAM Fusion Model

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 2.32.57 PM

For Aileen Owens, computational thinking plays a key role in opening up opportunities for innovation. “I developed a computational thinking initiative and that initiative is a way to teach the thought processes of innovation for our students.”  Aileen Owens in a proposal for a grant support from the Grable Foundation, a major educational foundation in the Pittsburgh area, outlined the role of computational thinking:

Computational thinking as a process of working effectively with computer-based technology is the new literacy. Understanding programming is as important to our children’s future as the basic reading, writing, and mathematics literacies. Computational thinking, as described in the working definition established by ISTE/CSTE, is a problem-solving process that includes (but is not limited to) the following characteristics:

  • Formulating problems in a way that enables people to use a computer and other tools to help solve them.
  • Logically organizing and analyzing data.
  • Representing data through abstractions such as models and simulations.
  • Automating solutions through algorithmic thinking (a series of ordered steps).
  • Identifying, analyzing, and implementing possible solutions with the goal of achieving the most efficient and effective combination of steps and resources.
  • Generalizing and transferring this problem-solving process to a wide variety of problems.


In addition to computational thinking the South Fayette model incorporates a series of dispositions called Habits of Mind. According to Aileen there are five key Habits of Mind that are essential to Computational Thinking: ·       

  • Confidence in dealing with complexity
  • Persistence in working with difficult problems
  • Tolerance for ambiguity.
  • The ability to deal with open-ended problems
  • The ability to communicate and work with others to achieve a common goal or solution.

Entrepreneuring Youth

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 2.43.03 PM

According to the Entrepreneuring Youth website: “We help young people start and operate businesses as a way to guide them toward their own path to success after high school. When young people run businesses of their own creation, they bloom with newfound confidence. They discover talents which were once hidden. They think of themselves as “owners” and “presidents.” Young people who become young entrepreneurs realize the value of creating (rather than waiting) for opportunities.”
According to one of the young entrepreneurs featured in a promotional video, EY gave her a voice. “… I could stand up before all of these people and say things that were on mind.”

Jerry Cozewith focuses on the concept of “self-efficacy” as the key for success. It’s about empowering youth. It’s not just that kids learn the value of owning a business; it’s more about the growth of young men and women who have the tools and awareness that will make them successful wherever they travel or seek to make their imprint. The EY program expands on the P21 4Cs by giving students motivation. Without motivation learning does not happen.

The Role of of the Zuluma Entertainment Technology Academy

How does this new definition for 21st Century Learning fit into the Zulama framework? Zulama is built upon the same computational thinking framework outlined by Aileen Owens. In every Zulama course students are using computers to solve problems. In every course students create models, test their ideas, and use a process of iteration to develop creative products. The students build upon class activities to create modified games, 2D and 3D animations, or screenplays for video scripts.

The Habits of Mind that frame the South Fayette Fusion model are essential to the growth of learners in the Zulama Entertainment Academy. Students learn to deal the complexity of game-based learning systems. Students gain an awareness of ambiguity. Students work with open-ended problems often as part of collaborative teams.

The Entrepreneurial spirit shines in the Zulama Studio Courses. Here students work in teams to create creative solutions for their school, their community, or for global partners. The sense of “self efficacy” identified by Jerry Cowewith is seen over and over among Zulama students. Zulama students are truly motivated and become an esprit corps that sells the value of this type of 21st century learning to other students.

Article image (1)

Making it Indie Style

By Sarah Avery, Zulama Community Advocate, Educator

Your students want to be indie developers? That’s great! It takes a lot of time and energy to become an indie developer; however, with the correct preparation, anyone can publish games!

What is an Indie Developer?

An indie developer is someone who develops and publishes games independently.  During this process an indie developer wears many hats, including marketer, accountant, networker, artist, developer, and more.  A common misconception is that an indie developer is only responsible for developing and designing a game.  However, once the game is completed, how will it reach an audience? How much will the game cost?  These are just two of the many questions posed to independent game developers.  Indie developers can spend months to years on one project, brainstorming playtesting, and iterating until it is publishable.  All the while the developer must network, research, and market their project in order to make money. Part game designer and business professional, an indie developer should be prepared for a wide range of responsibilities and hard work.

What are the Benefits of Being an Indie Developer?

With so much work involved in being an indie developer, it may seem to be easiest to work for a large company.  In some ways that is true; however, there are also benefits that accompany developing independent games including:

  • Freedom:  As an indie developer, you would have complete control over your game. You would be able to choose how the characters look, the artistic style of the game, how the story is developed and more.  You would have complete freedom to make the game however you feel is best.
  • Learning New Skills: With the wide variety of roles an indie developer takes on, it’s very difficult to not learn new skills.  As an indie developer, you would learn skills from marketing, to networking, to programming, and beyond. This is also a great way to meet established professionals who can mentor you through this learning process.
  • Passion: One of the main reasons indie game developers develop their independent games is their passion for game development.  It takes real love and commitment to spend months on one project before exposing it to the world for criticism and feedback.  Through this process you watch your game from an idea, to a prototype, to a published product. As an indie developer, you may not make a lot monetarily, but you will gain a lot emotionally and personally.

How can we Prepare Students to be Indie Developers?

As with all Zulama courses, the Game Production and Marketing course key skills needed for game development. However, in some ways it goes a step forward.  With a large focus on publication and marketing, students learn the skills needed to present their games to the world. As an indie developer, it’s not enough to just make a great game, you must also know how to share and sell it to an audience.  In this course, students do just that through a simulated economic market.

In addition, throughout the Zulama courses, students work in IDEA teams.  IDEA Teams, in conjunction with a focus on Project Based Learning, allow Zulama students to gain an in depth understanding into the design and publication process. From their in depth study of game design, Zulama students are well prepared to tackle a variety of career paths, from higher education to independently developing games.

To learn more about what it takes to be an indie game developer, check out the video below from Extra Credits:

How have you prepared your students to publish their own games? Comment below!

Article image copy


Crossing Borders Through Games

By Sarah Avery, Zulama Community Advocate, Educator

With our global economy and game industry, it’s important that our students are provided chances to improve their skills and shine.  And they are! With a variety of innovative initiatives, both through Zulama classes and other technological projects, students are given opportunities to code, design, build, and create, even at the global scale!

In the Classroom

Today teachers are expanding their classrooms beyond national borders.  Take a look at the following video.  You’ll see students at the Qingddao Amerasia International School connect with Dan Geisler, award winning designer, through a video conference.  During that conference students were able to learn about the industry and the design process from across the world.

In Higher Education

In addition to classroom conference calls, many students are able to cross cultural bonds in higher education while studying something they love. Centered in Barcelona, leading game design companies, Digital Legends, Crytek, Ubisoft Barcelona and King collaborate on the new Bachelor’s Degree in Video Game Design and Development taught 100 percent in English at the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya.

Students from across the world, joined by a common language, come together and collaborate on games while learning valuable industry skills at this university.

Ways to Make Connections

Holly from edTechTeacher wrote an article titled, Five Amazing Ways to Collaborate With Another Class, where she provided examples of ways to widen the educational reach of your classroom, not just with games.  Examples include project collaboration through google docs, video conferences, cross culture blogging, and more.

For some ideas on connecting with classrooms around the world, check out Fractus Learning’s article, 5 Great Tools to Make Global Classroom Connections. Many of the examples provided are similar to pen-pal letters on steroids, thanks to the invention of social media!

As a final recommendation, if you are looking to connect with game design professionals, I suggest sending an email to ask. Consider the possibilities when students research companies to connect with and write professional introduction and invitation emails to those companies!  Through organizing the google hangouts I have found that it never hurts to ask.  Sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised by those  interested in sharing their knowledge and experience, especially for the sake of education.

In coming weeks we will be joined by professionals, directors, and students in our next hangout, The Global Games Industry.  During this hangout we’ll be discussing topics ranging from concerns of an indie developer to global diversity and originality.  We would love to have you join us and tweet in comments and questions to @ZulamaLearn.  It will definitely be time well spent!


Until then, please enjoy some of our past hangouts:


How have you inspired students to connect globally? Comment below!

Article image

Coding: Definitely a Girl Thing

By Sarah Avery, Zulama Community Advocate, Educator 

Traditionally the video game industry has been seen as a “boys club;” however, this is changing.  With almost half of gamers being female and the number of female game programmers doubling since 2009, the fight for gender equality in the video game industry is gathering force.  This movement begins with our students.

There are many opportunities out of the classroom for girls to become involved in gaming, including Girls Who Code, iD Tech, Girls Make Games, and more.  At these programs, female students bond with their peers over their love of gaming and coding without fear of judgement.

Fort Cherry School District, uses the Hummingbird technology from Birdbrain, a Pittsburgh based technology education company, to get students interested in programming and coding through their after school Fashion Bots program.  Even at the elementary level, Fort Cherry is actively engaging girls through the building and crafting aspect of the technology.  The Hummingbird Technology, based on Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Lab, is a robotics kit designed to enable engineering and robotics activities that involve the making of robots, kinetic sculptures, and animatronics built out of a combination of kit parts and crafting materials. As hands-on projects, students design, build, and program robots.  Fort Cherry has found that the crafting and design aspect of the Hummingbirds immediately draws in girls who then learn to love coding.

Along with classroom and camp opportunities, there are many scholarships available for female students with coding skills.  Check out the video below for the Kode with Karlie Scholarship.

Karlie Kloss, fashion model and ballerina encourages girls to join her at the Flatiron School for a summer coding session.

Karlie Kloss, after building a career modeling, discovered her love of coding.  With her passion, she has offered a scholarship to young middle and high school women to help them realize their dreams using coding.  To apply for her scholarships, students were required to make a youtube video explaining why coding is important to them and how they would use their new knowledge.  Two of these applications can be seen below.


“We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”Marie Curie

How have you encouraged your students to work with coding? Comment below!

Coding a GirlyThing