Teacher Spotlight: Mary Wilson


Teacher Spotlight

Mary Wilson

Elizabeth Forward High School

When Mary Wilson heard about the National STEM Video Game Challenge, she was obviously very excited.  She knew her students were up to the task, so she gave them the chance to compete nationally against other students.

With the deadline being only a few weeks away, her students have been hard at work perfecting their games.  In December, Elizabeth Forward held a school-day game-jam in its Media Center. After the teams were assembled and organized, the students came up with a game idea, and began designing and coding.  When creating teams, students thought strategically about the roles that need filled.  Each student has a position based on their strengths: artist, programmer, designer, or storyteller. These game design projects are great for promoting collaboration and showcasing 21st Century skills, truly a fantastic way to include all areas of STEAM.  Since the game- jam, Mary’s students have worked on their games in their free time while at home, in study hall, and after school in order to prepare for the challenge.

Past winners of the National Video Game Challenge have come from all over the country with topics ranging from biology, environmentalism, and leadership skills.  The lucky few present their games at the annual White House Science Fair and meet celebrities, like Bill Nye, and other top officials from various government agencies, like NASA. Nic Balida, a 2013 winner of the National STEM Video Game Challenge, discusses his experiences at the White House Science Fair in Allison Mishkin’s article, “STEM Challenge Winner Nic Badila Attends White House Science Fair.”

Nic says that “[t]he next generation is our future, and learning to program taught [him] that [he] can literally create whatever [he] want[s]. More kids need to do that.”1 This is exactly what Mary’s students do everyday.  She has them discovering, experimenting, and creating.  These are the skills our 21st century learners need to be successful and ones that are integral to the Maker Movement.

1 Mishkin, Allison. “STEM Challenge Winner Nic Badila Attends White House Science Fair.” Joanganzcooneycenter.com. 5 June 2014. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.

Learning with Minecraft at Elizabeth Forward Middle School

Our flagship district, Elizabeth Forward, is featured in this fantastic video from Edutopia!

With some help from Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (whose instructors designed our courses!), Elizabeth Forward Middle School is pioneering the use of Minecraft as an educational tool. Watch and see how Minecraft is being used in the classroom and how students are responding!

Student Profile: Allyssa Dangel

This was Allyssa Dangel when she was first introduced to the world of game design through a Zulama course being taught at Elizabeth Forward’s Entertainment Technology Academy. Now, she’s beginning her senior year of high school and succeeding in ways that many could have never imagined.

Dangel’s newly found passion for gaming has taken her to many places including Washington D.C. to speak on a panel at the Reimagining Education Summit in front of a live audience of over 200. Dangel was also granted admittance into Carnegie Mellon University’s National High School Gaming Academy, a selective six week program. During the program, she spent her time developing a portfolio of artwork for her own original game. Currently, Dangel is investigating opportunities to pursue game design at the collegiate level and planning on using the experience she has gained to complete an internship at a gaming company.

We’re always working to interest more students, especially female students, in STEAM careers. We are beyond excited that we could be one of the catalysts that ignited Dangel’s passion for design and helped to shape her future career path! You can read more about Allyssa Dangel’s story at the Remake Learning blog.

Innovation in the Library (and elsewhere)

If you haven’t been paying attention to the changes at a “regular” but innovative district in southwestern PA, it’s time to check out Elizabeth Forward. It’s a small-ish rural district whose administration couldn’t believe the impact that dropouts and charter and cyber schools were having on their bottom line.

They decided to REALLY make some changes to ENGAGE their students. To give them even more reasons to come to school every day. And it’s working.

An old, dingy computer lab was renovated into a colorful, welcoming place to hang out and geek out.

Their library was also transformed into a modern media space.

The teaching staff was offered a chance to create their very own Entertainment Technology Academy. They are using Zulama’s Game Academy courses, as well as providing other engaging game-based learning opportunities.

Some recent press:

Library Transformation