4 Comic Con Interviews Chock-Full of Advice for Students

Every year, artists, designers, writers, and comic book fans converge in New York City for an epic event—Comic Con. Many come in full costume, but everyone comes ready to talk about why they love the world of comics, media, and entertainment. This year we got to attend Comic Con and were absolutely stunned by the passion and work ethic of the creative professionals we met, from an illustrator who doubles as a musician to a biotechnologist-turned-Wonder Woman artist!

We managed to snag a few artists and writers away from their fans to ask them how they got started. Not only did they have inspirational career stories, but they also had tons of practical and thoughtful advice for students and aspiring creators. Check out our interviews below!

Freddie E. Williams II

comic con, advice, students

Who: Artist for Batman/TMNT and He-Man/Thundercats

How he got started: Freddie remembers staying in from recess to draw Superman and He-Man. Once he’d discovered his passion, he studied How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way and found a mentor.

Advice for students:

  • Learn through all different kinds of media.
  • You’re going to fail and hear “no” a lot, but you just have to stick with it.


Afua Richardson

Comic Con, student

Who: Artist for Black Panther, Musician, Jane of All Trades

How she got started: Afua started out by drawing trees, and before long she was also drawing people and just about everything else.

Advice for students:

  • Promote yourself! Get a website and business cards.
  • Draw from life. Find resources through your local ASIFA Chapter.
  • If you’re looking for a community of creators, check out Docta Foo’s Lab.


Emanuela Lupacchino

comic con, students

Who: Artist for DC Comics—Supergirl and Wonderwoman

How she got started: Emanuela started her career as a biotechnologist, and when she was 24 decided to become a comic book artist. Her first comic book was for a small publisher in Italy.

Advice for students:

  • No matter what you’re doing, you have to practice a lot.
  • Always look around you for inspiration.


Man of Action Entertainment Team

Comic Con, students

Who: Creators of Ben 10 and the characters for Big Hero 6

How they got started: Duncan loved to draw Godzilla as a kid, and Steve’s first book was called Escape from Spain. They were friends who went to conventions together, and then they decided to make comics together.

Advice for students:

  • Learn about the business and marketing sides of art.
  • Work on what you love every day.
  • Don’t be afraid to take yourself seriously.


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Zulama Newsletter

The 4 Cs: From Buzzword to Reality

By: Amy Pavelich, Zulama Copy Editor

There’s an exciting change taking place in today’s classrooms. More and more teachers are incorporating the 4 Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) into their lesson plans and it’s making a huge difference in the way students learn and how teachers instruct.

For this post, we talked with a dynamic teacher who’s committed to the 4 Cs. She’ll share a bit about how she applies them to students and herself. And at the end, we’ve got some great resources and inspiration for using the 4 Cs in your classroom and life.

4 Cs Refresher

But first, a quick review of each of the 4 Cs:

Critical Thinking: viewing problems from different angles

Communication: sharing ideas, questions, and possible solutions

Collaboration: achieving goals by working together

Creativity: courageously trying out new ideas

How does encouraging the 4Cs impact your students? Well, the possibilities are endless. Students will learn empathy through collaboration and communication. They’ll make important connections through relationships centered on valuing different perspectives. They’ll become critical, and in many cases divergent, thinkers, by exploring different ways to come up with super creative solutions to problems. And with the world they’re inheriting, all of these life skills will come in handy as kids set out on their paths to good citizenship and continuous learning.

With the 4 Cs a student can become a:

4 Cs Graphic

Advice from a 4 Cs Teacher

So, as a teacher, how can you successfully implement the 4 Cs in your classroom? And, just as importantly, for yourself? We asked Courtney Sears, a second-grade teacher who’s a champion of maker spaces and a genuine thought leader in education. (Check out “Taking the Time for Making,” where she discusses how she designed a maker space in her classroom that incorporates STEAM challenges!) She gave us some really useful ideas that will hopefully inspire you in your own quest for cultivating the 4 Cs.

Using Projects to Cultivate the 4 Cs for Your Students

Courtney uses projects to help her students cultivate the 4 Cs. She’s found that the most engaging assignments and student work come from projects that blend all four elements together. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. “Each second grade class in our school has a classroom maker space. Each week the kids have time to work on self-directed projects. We use the time to teach communications skills and habits of mind such as optimism, flexibility, and persistence. Kids build forts, light-up tiaras, doll houses with working elevatorsyou name it! They couldn’t complete these projects without using all of the 4 Cs.”
  2. “For a unit on weather, my students worked in small groups to design a weather manual that explained how different weather instruments worked. My students had to use Google Docs to write and publish the book. They used the comments feature to give each other feedback on their work and they had to help each other solve problems.”

“Explaining to them that all of their names went on the cover and that no one would know what particular work each kid did really helped them see the importance of working together to create a product they could all be proud of.”

Cultivating the 4 Cs for Yourself

The 4 Cs are valuable for teachers, too. Courtney has found that one great way to practice using the 4Cs herself is by connecting with other educational professionals, establishing a support network where she can seek out fresh perspectives and collaborate.

“I do all of my planning with my second-grade teamwe accomplish so much more by working together. Pushing myself to try new things and seeking out opportunities to grow professionally help a lot. My teacher fellowship helped me develop relationships with policymakers, advocate for teachers and students through writing, and dig more deeply into the world of teacher-led professional development.”

The 4 Cs of Professional Learning Networks

Courtney has also developed a robust online community, aka a Professional Learning Network (PLN). She’s a big fan of PLNs as an avenue to the 4 Cs. There’s an abundance of creative ideas you can learn from others to try out with your students and opportunities to connect and collaborate with other educators who are rethinking learning space, refocusing curriculum to be project driven, and connecting more than ever with their students.  

Courtney has had a lot of success using Twitter to build her PLN:

“Twitter connects me with blog posts and online articles from orgs like Teaching Tolerance and EdWeek. I also participate in Twitter chats. I connect with teachers and authors I would never have the chance to work with in my school or district.”

Since it can be tough to get started developing your own PLN, here’s her advice to teachers who are new to it:

“To get connected on Twitter, follow the curricular leaders in your district, the authors of professional books and blogs that have most influenced you, and take part in Twitter chats. Be generous with your follows, comments, and retweets so that others can get to know you and see what you are about. Make sure that you follow a diverse group of educators. Beyond Twitter, seek out enriching professional development and networking opportunities that will push you to do better and help you make connections beyond your school and district. Finally, share your story with others. There are many education publications eager to share the voices of classroom teachers.”

Personalized Professional Development Source: EdSurge.

A Parting NoteThe 5th C?

We think it’s worth acknowledging that among the 4 Cs, a 5th C exists: connection. It is inherent in everything you do to achieve the 4 Cs, and some of the best experiences that come from them. As famed researcher, Dr. Brené Brown says, “People are hardwired for connection.” But to make that connection truly meaningful, valuable, impactful, purposefulwe must continuously engage our students in practicing the 4 Cs both in and outside our classrooms.

Courtney Sears is a second-grade public school teacher in 1:1 classroom in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is National Board Certified and a 2015–2017 North Carolina Hope Street Group Fellow. She has been teaching and learning with young children for 18 years. She is passionate about cultivating classrooms with growth mindsets so that children can confidently take the lead in their learning.


Check out these useful resources for more information on the 4 Cs and ways to incorporate them in your classroom!

  • Critical Thinking: Self-awareness and metacognition are discussed for helping improve learning.
  • Communication: In STEM fields, empathetic communication is a fundamental ingredient for success . . . If students learn to express ideas in a persuasive way and respond gracefully to reactions to their opinions, they’ll be able to promote innovation and social change through fields like bioengineering or video game design.”
  • Collaboration: This P21/Pearson Paper explores what good collaboration looks like and how to design collaborative activities in your classroom.
  • Creativity: “The process of having original ideas that have value” (The Element, 2009). This is a must-see Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson on “Changing Education Paradigms.” Even if you’ve already seen it, it’s worth watching again! And there’s a featured RSA video animation as a bonus.  
  • Common Sense.org’s video provides example ways to incorporate the 4 Cs into classrooms using technology.
  • Teaching Thought gives 10 reasons for why developing a PLN is important for teachers.

Want to spice up your curriculum this fall? Bring game design and computer science into any class, at any time with our Short Courses.

Back-to-School Wisdom from the Experts

Decorating, lesson-planning, gathering project materials . . . there are a lot of little details to keep track of when heading back to school. What’s most important? We asked teachers, administrators, and education specialists for some back-to-school advice. Here’s what we took away:

  • Start by building relationships with students, parents, and other teachers.
  • Take opportunities to learn with and from your students and your fellow educators.
  • Get inspired by celebrating your past achievements.

Focus on Relationships First . . .

. . . within Your School

Some of education’s big thinkers consistently said that getting to know your school community will make for a year of deeper learning:

“My one piece of advice for educators as they prepare for another school year is to form relationships early and often. First, know yourself. Reflect often about who you are as an educator, what you do well and how you can do it better. Take time to know who your students really are. What their personalities are. What they like, don’t like, etc. . . . Building positive school culture is up to us all. Form those relationships with colleagues. Learn from them. Grow with them. Isolation is a choice teachers make. There is so much we can learn from each other!”

Steven W. Anderson, Educational Evangelist, Speaker/Consultant

. . . with Your Students

“. . . all that we do is grounded in relationships. The best way to kick off your year is by building a culture of innovation in your classroom where trust is the foundation, students are free to take risks, and the culture is dynamic and supportive. Take the first few days to build your team. Empower the voice of everyone in the room and ensure that they leave feeling valued, respected, and that you couldn’t be more excited to have THEM on your team this year. Show your new group of kids how much you care. Make it obvious that you love your work and that there is nowhere else in the world you want to bethan learning alongside them. Build relationships, push their thinking, and the content will follow. Invest the time early and the relationships will pay academic dividends for the rest of the year!”

Thomas Murray, Director of Innovation, Future Ready Schools, Washington, D.C.

Vicki Davis of CoolCatTeacher offered an idea for a fun relationship-building activity:

“I have students use play dough to model something that is wonderful about them. Some will model a basketball and say they love basketball. Others may model a horse or a pet. Still others might model a book. It gives me insight quickly into what they love and who they are. So, while there are many things we need to be doing, remember to start off with the relationship!”

Vicki Davis, Teacher & Blogger, Founder of CoolCatTeacher

In order to have meaningful relationships with students, we have to consider the way that external factors, like the current political climate, are affecting their lives:

“. . . be candid and nonjudgmental when answering students’ questions about the dialogue going on in the United States as elected political leaders and the news media tackle important issues about immigration, global affairs, health care, the Russian ‘hacking’ scandal, and national security. Students, like the rest of us, are being barraged by the 24/7 news and social media cycles and we have to assuage students’ fears and concerns by helping them navigate the news cycle and use their critical thinking skills to understand the often hostile communication interactions going on in America and the global community.

Delbert White Jr., Education Technology Thought Leader

. . . with Parents

Form positive relationships with parents. Don’t just call home when a student is in trouble. Call home, write, as often as you can to let them know how awesome things are. It takes just a second to make a parent’s day.

Steven W. Anderson, Educational Evangelist, Speaker/Consultant

“Don’t rely on students to communicate information and what’s happening in your classroom. Find tools to “tell YOUR story” and then share them with parents, community, and the world directly.”

Andy Adams, Digital Learning Specialist, Region 7 ESC

Take Opportunities to Keep on Learning

Mark Suter, a game design and programming teacher, shared what he is getting out of professional learning:

For this fall, I’m attending some conferences to find resources for my game design and programming courses.

Mark Suter, Game Design and Programming Teacher

We also heard from a couple digital learning experts about alternative professional learning activities that they are offering at their schools:

“I’m working with my colleagues to plan a hands-on week-long conference—called JumpStart—for our faculty to kick off the school year. We are excited that it will be a mix of featured speakers, EdCamp-style discussions, and breakout sessions. With so much choice and variety, we hope that every educator will get the ideas and energy they need.”

Kerry Gallagher, Digital Learning Specialist at St. John’s Prep

Kerry doing a parent/student night to help parents learn more about how their children use iPads in school.

“This fall finds us entering the final stage of our 1:1 rollouts . . . we are noticing our teachers are seeing devices and technology platforms as true tools of learning rather than separate and additional to the curriculum . . . To help our teachers gain confidence and knowledge, we (our team of edtech coaches) are creating challenge-based explorative professional learning activities. These are meant to be hands-on, fast-paced and are built to immerse the teacher in the platform rather than training them to swipe and click.”

Brianna Henneke Hodges, Director of Digital Learning for Stephenville Independent School District

For some teachers, continued learning means thinking about how they might alter lesson plans based on student feedback:

I prepared by looking over my lessons from the previous semesters and tweaking them based on how they went. Keeping many with tweaks, while getting rid of some entirely. Experience is key.

Blake Borden, Zulama Teacher

Get Inspired by Celebrating Last Year’s Accomplishments

A few educators and learning specialists reflected on their proudest moments from last school year:

Celebrating Students

“My proudest moment last year was when my students successfully deployed their Unity apps to the HTC Vive that they designed and coded themselves.”

Mark Suter, Game Design and Programming Teacher

“In terms of using Zulama, my proudest moments were basically Monday mornings in my Cinematography class. Using the Screenwriting Curriculum, we would discuss character development and dialog. Many members of the class were fans of the Walking Dead TV show and each Monday we were able to talk about way more than just what happened in Sunday’s episode. We would discuss the choices they made and how they grew the character, theme, etc.”

Brian Wetzel, Zulama Teacher

“Over the years, I feared that I was too didactic and that students all programmed the same way as me based on my teaching and use of exemplars. However, this fear was unfounded . . . They’ve developed their own individual methods of solving problems through programming and this made me immensely proud. My second proudest achievement was finally breaking the gender gap. For September 2017, 54 percent of students choosing Computer Science as one of their three elective GCSE option subjects in Year 10 were female! This may not seem like a significant achievement, however the national average is 16.1 percent!”

William Lau, Assistant Headteacher, Author of Teaching Computing in Secondary Schools

Regarding Zulama courses I taught—The projects that were created in the Game Design class were amazing. Definitely my favorite moment.”

Blake Borden, Zulama Teacher

“My boy’s robotic team made it to state competition this year. I was so proud of their initiative, hard work, and creativity.”

Faith Plunkett, Entertainment Technology Academy Teacher

Celebrating Teachers

“Featuring the work of my daughter’s second-grade teacher and the teachers from my school in a conference presentation. I love sharing the amazing work that great teachers do every single day.”

Kerry Gallagher, Digital Learning Specialist at St. John’s Prep

“This past year, we had several teachers transform their classroom into imaginative worlds (e.g., Mario World), complete with hanging coin boxes that students could punch when they unlocked portions of the Breakout-style curriculum and physical activities that brought authentic application to their understanding of the content. We had teachers push past their uncertainties and utilize blogging and digital portfolios as vehicles for connected learning. And, we had teachers who became such believerssuch great sailboatsthat they shared their experiences with others as first-time presenters at major learning conferences.”

Brianna Henneke Hodges, Director of Digital Learning for Stephenville Independent School District

Want to spice up your curriculum this fall? Bring game design and computer science into any class, at any time with our 15–20—hour Short Courses.

Unpacking “CS for All”: Tools for Creating an Inclusive CS Classroom

By Lily Taylor, Community Advocate

While it is incredibly important to discuss the lack of access to computer science (CS) education, it is also essential to talk about (and celebrate!) all of the men, women, and underrepresented minorities who have succeeded in CS—in ways big and small. Stories of triumph can inspire students and teachers, who feel like outsiders in CS, to keep going (Rework, 2016).

And success stories should reveal the bumps along the way, Leigh Ann DeLyser, Director of Education and Research at CSNYC and former CS teacher, points out. Leigh Ann’s inspiring story, which includes earning a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University, has had plenty of tough moments. “Every single day I was there at the University,” she says, “I thought that they would figure me out and kick me out . . . I had imposter syndrome. I spent hours on the floor of friends’ dorm rooms going, ‘Why doesn’t it like me?’ and struggling with our code just as much as everyone else does.” If students hear Leigh Ann’s story, they might not feel as alone or inadequate when they face their own challenges with CS courses.

As an educator, how do you help all kinds of students live out their own CS success stories? For one, you can share anecdotes like the ones above at the top of class each day! But there’s more to an equitable classroom than that. We interviewed Leigh Ann a few months ago, and we’ve compiled a bunch of her tips, along with ideas from other education resources, on how you can start to make your school or CS classroom more inclusive to all students—today.

Making CS More Equitable

Thoughtful Recruiting

One of the first steps to making computer science more equitable is to recruit all different kinds of students into CS classes. Unfortunately, cultural stereotypes often play too large a role in the recruiting process. Leigh Ann explains that we often assume that the kid wearing the Star Wars shirt is the most likely to thrive in a computer science classroom. But there are lots of other kids who don’t fit that stereotype who likely are just as interested in CS. Leigh Ann says, “No matter what a student is interested in, tech might be something that they can find a home in.”

Art Lopez, a computer science teacher in San Diego, agrees that active, inclusive recruiting is essential. He also believes that schools that have trained their existing teaching staff to teach computer science have an upper hand when it comes to recruiting: “One advantage to using existing personnel is that these teachers already know the community and can work to recruit students who may not view themselves as computer scientists” (Mindshift, 2016).

In addition to teachers, there’s another group that knows the school community well: the students. They can help with recruiting in lots of ways. Ask them to share their CS experience on social media, put up posters around the school, and chat with their friends.

Once you have a classroom full of CS students with different backgrounds, how do you make sure that they all want to stay in that classroom?

Classroom Practices

Although Leigh Ann encourages all students to make their voices heard in CS classes, she emphasizes that, “Our teachers . . . shouldn’t be relying on students to speak up.” Instead, she recommends actively engaging with students on an individual basis. CSTeachingTips.org provides a first step for giving students personal attention—learning their names. As simple as it sounds, this can provide the foundation for meaningful teacher-student relationships that can keep all students coming to class.

Another inclusive engagement tool that Leigh Ann loved as a CS teacher is walking a path in the classroom. She explains: “Rather than responding to raised hands while students are working on projects, choose a path . . . I would literally, during class, do laps of the room . . . Every student had to acknowledge that they were not stuck, that they didn’t need my help, that it was okay that I moved along to the next person.” Leigh Ann also had success with a “counting hands” technique. When students would raise their hands to answer a question, she would count all the hands that went up before calling on anyone. She found that this was a great way of stalling so that all students had a chance to think through the problem and participate in the conversation.

Even with the best intentions, though, sometimes we’re not aware of our bias. The folks at CSTeachingTips.org have a great idea for facing that issue head on. Bring up the effects of bias in class, so that teachers and students can have open conversations about it, rather than pretending bias doesn’t exist. In this dialogue, you can teach students about research that has been done on issues such as stereotype-threat and then discuss ways that everyone in the class can maintain an inclusive environment.

The Role of Mentors

Inside or outside the classroom, you can change students’ lives by serving as a supportive mentor. When Leigh Ann was discussing her path to a successful CS education, mentorship came up immediately. “What really got me is I had very supportive mentors while I was in school and then even after I got out of school who encouraged me.” As an educator, you can offer yourself up as a mentor to students by encouraging them to come talk to you after class or during office hours. You could also bring in older students, who have already taken your CS course, for mentoring sessions with current students.

Research backs up the importance of mentorship, especially for women and underrepresented minorities. The Atlantic reported on a study which found that women engineering students were more successful when they had women mentors. And when Carnegie Mellon scholars explored why their CS program was attracting more women students than average, they found that mentorship was a significant ingredient (Rework, 2016).

“What’s Good for the Goose Is Good for the Gander”

Good CS teaching practice does not change based on the race or gender of your students. It’s about making your classroom culture welcoming, comfortable, and empowering for all students. Leigh Ann puts it simply: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

She elaborates, saying, “The best things that work for young women, also work for our young men . . . It’s not about looking at the specific categories of the people that are missing, but instead asking ourselves how can we take our instruction, how can we take our classroom practice, and make it better for everybody.” Other researchers agree. CMU scholars argue that if you create CS content specifically for girls, you are just reinforcing the very stereotypes you’re trying to eliminate (Rework, 2016). And researchers at the University of Washington found that “girls were almost three times more likely to be interested . . . [in CS] when the classroom was not stereotypical [in its design and decoration]” (The Conversation, 2015).

When it comes to equity in CS education, there are also systemic issues at play that can’t necessarily be solved in the classroom. But all educators can make a huge difference. Especially when you have students in your class who have never encountered CS before, you have the opportunity to shape their perception of the subject. As Leigh Ann DeLyser says “the teacher’s role is key in computer science.”

Please let us know if you have any other tools or ideas for helping make the CS classroom a more inclusive place. And please share your own or your students’ CS success stories!


Ready to level up your CS teaching? Check out the Computer Science & Game Design course, co-created by the CSTA and Zulama! You’ll learn game design and programming skills, earning a Computer Science & Game Design Certificate.

For additional reading on how to bring inclusive teaching practices to your classroom, or how to bring computer science to your school, check out these resources:


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:

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.