It’s Jam Time!


by Bev Vaillancourt, Editorial Director

On the heels of a very successful climate game jam held last September, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is planning another game jam for April 15 – April 24, 2016. The theme is “Water”! While game jams usually are “jammed” into a 48-hour time period with no breaks, the Spring game jam has a much different structure.

In order to accommodate school schedules, the NOAA’s Spring game jam will span 10 days, with a total of 48 hours dedicated to designing a game within the 10 days. This allows teachers and community groups a lot of flexibility. An entire school day can be dedicated to the game jam, with time spent on following days to improve the game. Teachers also could opt to restrict the game jam one concentrated time period with follow up iteration before the prototype is ready for review.

Four age categories have been established for the Spring Game Jam:

  • K-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12
  • 13-16

A variety of game development tools will be allowed, from basic paper prototypes to Scratch to GameSalad to Unity. Individuals will be competing for top game design honors within their age group and within their game design tool category.

Specific science categories related to water have been identified, as well. Game Designers will be able to choose from several important water related topics including including Changing Precipitation Patterns to Marine Biodiversity to Polar Issues, and much more. The Spring game jam offers a very unique opportunity for students to work as design teams, learn a lot of science facts, consider very important and timely environmental issues, and have a lot of fun building a game that can be used to teach others about water issues.

Interested in learning more? If you are wondering how to organize and conduct a game jam, stay tuned. Zulama will be providing you with “how to” information in mid-March. More to come soon on the NOAA website, as well! Take a break with your students and enjoy creating a game for NOAA. Who knows? You may join the September game design team from Elizabeth Forward High School and have your game showcased on the NOAA website!

Hot Off the Presses!

A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science and reported in Education Week (Volume 35, No. 21) highlights that showcasing exceptional work has a negative impact on struggling students. Researchers Todd Rogers of Harvard University and Avi Feller of the University of California found that when all students attempt similar assignments, struggling students quickly size up the possibility of generating work of equal quality to high functioning students and lose interest in the assignment. The results of this important study underscores the value of students working in design teams where each member of the team brings his or her strengths to the project. It’s not that students should be shielded from comparison of student accomplishments. Rather it is students learning that measuring up really means setting personal goals for achievement and helping others build their skills in a collaborative way. It’s the power of game design in every Zulama classroom.

Zulama Students Shine at Smithsonian Climate Game Showcase

Elizabeth Forward High School (PA) students Alex Winter, Josh Turner, Scott McAlpine showcase their game, Flood Prevention, at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Elizabeth Forward High School (PA) students Alex Winter, Josh Turner, Scott McAlpine showcase their game, Flood Prevention, at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

By Beverly Vaillancourt

As a high school game design student, what would it be like to have a game you designed showcased at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.? Pretty awesome!

Azure Skies, created by Harmony High School (FL) students, on display at the Smithsonian.

Azure Skies, created by Harmony High School (FL) students, on display at the Smithsonian.

That’s exactly what happened for Zulama students from Elizabeth Forward High School, PA, and Harmony High School, FL, on January 18, 2016. Games designed by teams from both schools were chosen from several games created as part of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sponsored climate game jam. Their games were showcased alongside games created by professional game designers and university students at the Smithsonian for museum visitors to play. Three students, Alex Winter, Josh Turner, Scott McAlpine, from Elizabeth Forward, along with teachers Mary Wilson and Alexis Dombrowsky, made the trip to Washington, D.C. to set up their game and watch gamers of all ages playtest it. Museum staff estimated some 600 people visited the two-level game showcase during the afternoon hours. Talk about the ultimate playtest experience!

Unable to make the trip, Harmony High School students sent their game to the Smithsonian for the showcase. Several young gamers admired the art and the complexity of the game. While Azure Skies, the board game created by Harmony High students, certainly is an excellent example of a board game prototype, several young players commented on what a good digital game it could be.

Playtesting Flood Prevention.

Playtesting Flood Prevention.

For Zulama students to be part of the Smithsonian event speaks to their high level game design skills and ability to work effectively as a design team. It also speaks to the investment of their talented teachers who inspire and facilitate student interest in deepening game design knowledge. Zulama congratulates both teams on their success and hopes they use the feedback received from the Washington D.C. showcase to continue to develop their games. NOAA has offered to host both Elizabeth Forward’s and Harmony’s games on the NOAA website featuring science games. That’s quite the pat on the back for these young game designers!

Building on the success of last September’s climate game jam, an early Spring game jam is being planned by NOAA for high school students across the county. Information about the game jam will be shared in a coming newsletter. We hope several Zulama students decide to participate in the Spring game jam. It’s quite the experience for students to come together as a design team and develop a game prototype in the short span of a day. The pride of accomplishment was quite evident with three talented game design students from Elizabeth Forward who saw their game from the perspective of players new to their game through the showcase experience. The feedback that was shared was an incredibly valuable and a deeply important learning experience for them.

The glass globe given to the winning high school teams from Elizabeth Forward and Harmony by NOAA and the Smithsonian are as valued as any school sports trophy. Zulama applauds their efforts and the efforts of all students who took part in last September’s game jam.

National Climate Game Jam

climate_game_jamWritten in cooperation with Peg Steffins from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On September 30, Zulama students from South Fayette High School and Elizabeth Forward High School in Pennsylvania participated in the National Climate Game Jam at the Carnegie Mellon Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. Students from Harmony High School in Harmony, Florida, gathered in their Zulama classroom for the day. From board games, to card games, to digital games, Zulama students put their game design skills to work to create several creative games with a focus on science.


Zulama students at Harmony High School in Osceola, FL work on their Climate Game Jam submission.

Harmony High School hosted 35 student game designers for the day long event. Beginning at 7 a.m. and working non-stop through lunch and into the afternoon, eight design teams made up of student game designers, computer programmers, and artists created a variety of games focused on climate change. Brad Davey and Hilarie Davis, consultants with NOAA, served as resident experts, answering student questions and encouraging student creativity. Bev Vaillancourt from Zulama spent the day at Harmony High School facilitating connections with Peg Steffins from NOAA who communicated with Harmony High School game designers twice during the day via SKYPE to congratulate students on their participation and provide expert assistance when needed. Harmony High School teacher Lynn VanderZyl managed technical questions with ease from her Zulama students throughout the day as they put their GameMaker programming and game design skills to work. According to comments from several students, the climate game jam day was the best school day ever!

“As a former Zulama student I had quite a few friends participating in Pittsburgh’s Climate Game Jam. I saw computer science buffs and garage band musicians work together researching different natural disasters and finding ways to make them battle in their card game. Others were athletes and gamers huddled together looking for ways to fuse resource management and the game “Risk”. After just five minutes observing a Zulama class it is easy to see that at the end of the day, all that matters is learning, playing games, and having fun!”

-Dennis McClintock, Zulama Media Assistant

Zulama students at Harmony High School in Osecola, FL work on their Climate Game Jam submission.

Zulama students at Harmony High School in Osecola, FL work on their Climate Game Jam submission.

The purpose of the National Climate Game Jam was to provide an opportunity for game developers, artists, climate scientists, educators, and youth at sites across the U.S. to consider climate change impacts and develop games that will be shared nationally online and at special showcases in winter 2016. The jam offered a unique opportunity for game designers to build climate game prototypes. At the conclusion of the jam, each development team submitted a 2 minute video for later judging by science and game design experts. Selected games will be eligible for further refinement with assistance by companies such as GlassLabs or if completed later, will be posted on the Smithsonian Learning Lab or

Sites worked simultaneously around the country October 2-4, each hosting a unique audience.  The largest site was at the Video Game Convention at the DC Convention Center. Zulama students joined game designers in climate game jam sites across the county including:

  • Ward 4, Milwaukee – Students –K-12, colleges, universities
  • Harmony High School, Florida – Students grades 9 -12
  • California Academy of Science – Professional game developers
  • Michigan Technological University – Students K-12
  • Cayuga Nature Center, NY – Educators and students in colleges, universities, technical schools
  • Smithsonian Environmental Research Center – Professional game developers
  • Barnard College, NY – Students in colleges, universities, technical schools
  • University of Oklahoma, National Weather Service – Students in colleges, universities, technical schools

Post jam events will include climate game showcases at the National Museum of Natural History in November, the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco in December, and Koshland Science Museum in late winter. These will highlight selected game products and provide testing opportunities for the teams with the public.

NOAA NOS/CED provided organizational leadership for this event. Cooperating partners included Smithsonian, Koshland Science Center (D.C), GlassLabs, Entertainment Software Association, Wilson Center, California Academy of Science, STEMHero, PoLAR Partnership, Entertainment Software Association, University of Oklahoma (National Weather Service), Paleontological Research Institute (Cornell), Harmony High School (FL), Barnard College (NY), Michigan Technological University (MI), BrainPOP, and Zulama.

STEM Video Game Challenge – Part 2

Students from Elizabeth Forward School District show off their games and talk about their participation in the STEM Video Game Challenge!

Part 2 of 2

STEM Video Game Challenge – Part 1

Students from Elizabeth Forward School District show off their games and talk about their participation in the STEM Video Game Challenge!

Part 1 of 2