Six Questions to Help You Find the Perfect PD

Teachers: Are you getting ready for your own summer of learning? Start by asking yourself a few questions that will help you figure out exactly what kind of program you need.

We know many of you are committed to your own learning, as well as your students’. For example, “three in five teachers are willing to spend their own time to learn more about computer science” (Google, 2017). Professional development (PD) should be a great experience–helping you meet your goals and engage your students–but that isn’t always the case. Starting with a little prep work can help you find that exceptional experience and leave you more prepared and excited about bringing new skills to your students.

Computer Science Teacher

Zulama is currently focused on supporting teachers who are looking for computer science PD, but the following essential questions can be applied to professional learning experiences of all kinds. These questions will help you figure out what PD will be the most fun and fruitful for you, and lead to the most engaging experiences for your students.

1. How much time do I have available to commit to PD?

Start with the basics. PD can range from three days of in-person workshops to 30 hours of self-paced online learning, so find the one that matches up best with your schedule. Teachers say that longer-term PD serves them better in their teaching practice (Gates Foundation, 2014), so consider options that let you pace yourself over time. For example, PD with an online component gives teachers the ability to continue returning to the course over the span of a semester or year. You’ll be less worried about running out of time, which means you’ll be able to tinker, play, and discover throughout your PD experience.

2. What is my end goal for participating in a PD opportunity?

Do your goals match up with the goals of the PD you are interested in? Is a given course preparing you to teach a specific course in the short-term or helping you build an adaptive set of skills? If you are looking to develop yourself as a professional in the long-run, make sure that the PD offering is aiming to involve you in an interactive project-based learning experience. The general consensus among teachers is the best PD programs “…involve hands-on strategies for the teacher to actually participate in” (Gates Foundation, 2014).

3. Which do I prefer, an independent or mentorship-based learning experience?

An online PD experience inevitably means more independence. This leads to perks including more flexibility and the ability to work at your own pace. In-person PD, on the other hand, allows for face-to-face connections, leading to a more disciplined use of your time. We often recommend combining online and in-person PD experiences as we find that the two together lead to the deepest learning.

4. Do I want to learn from fellow educators?

Find out who is driving the PD program you are considering. Have the PD leaders spent much time in the classroom? Was the program crafted by teachers like you who have experience bringing new skills and learning practices to students? Most teachers have had the best PD experiences when they know that the creators of the program have been in their shoes.

5. How much money is available to me for PD?

We ask this question next to last because it’s important to not let cost get in the way of finding the most effective, engaging PD for you. While price is a significant factor to consider, teachers and schools have found various creative ways to get outside funding for PD programs, and you can too.

6. Now… what’s out there?

Each PD program will have pros and cons, but there plenty of options are out there, so you can find one that suits your needs! For example, here is a chart that makes sense of some current computer science PD offerings:

Computer Science Professional Development


This post was adapted from a Zulama article in the CSTA Voice about selecting teacher PD that is tailored to your needs.

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:

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?


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!

Make Computer Science Part of Your Professional Learning

Over the next few months, we will be sharing all kinds of resources related to Computer Science Professional Development — from stories by teachers and Computer Science Professional Development experts to podcasts, graphics, Facebook Live events, and other fun surprises ;).

This is a conversation and we would love to hear your ideas and feedback along the way! Is there anything in particular about Computer Science (CS) that you’d like to hear about?

We are exploring the intersection of Computer Science and Professional Development to champion CS education and the teachers who bring it to life and to support the launch of our own CS professional learning opportunity.

Computer Science and Game Design for Teachers

From its inception, Zulama has been committed to helping teachers become life-changing mentors to their students and providing teachers with personalized, fun, and rigorous learning opportunities. To that end, we’re SO excited about the launch of our Computer Science and Game Design Professional Development Course and Certificate, created in partnership with the Computer Science Teachers Association.

With the rapid growth of CS-related careers, we want to give all teachers a chance to learn how to bring engaging CS experiences to their students. Our self-paced, interactive course will do just that, and this year we’re aiming to teach 2,000 teachers across the country about the joys of CS and Game Design.

A Bit More about the Course

Our 30-hour professional development course is designed for K-12 Teachers, experienced coders and novices alike. This online course is fun and highly interactive while also being rigorous enough to align with the K-12 CS Framework and the CSTA standards. In the course, teachers will:

  • learn and apply game design principles and programming skills.
  • use industry-standard tools to design and code an original video game and showcase it in their own digital portfolio.
  • interact with other teachers who are learning about and teaching CS.
  • receive a Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, upon completion of the course.

You can learn more about the course and register for it here.

Why CS Matters: The State of CS Education

  • Over 7.7 million Americans use computers in complex ways in their jobs (Change the Equation, 2015).
  • Nearly half of those 7.7 million work in fields that are not directly tied to science, technology, engineering, and math (Change the Equation, 2015).
  • Fewer than half of K–12 schools offer computer science courses with programming included (Google & Gallup, 2016).

Core Content and the Power of Play

Core Content and the Power of Play

By Norton Gusky, Educational Technology Broker for NLG Consulting

There’s a growing interest in not only using games to motivate and engage students, but to use the elements of game-based learning to make learning more empowering and personal for students. Often games are thought more for younger students. However, teachers at all levels and in a variety of subject areas are discovering the power of play in their classrooms.

David Dulberger, an elementary teacher at the Emma Doub Elementary School in Hagerstown, Maryland, Michelle King and Nick Kaczmarek, middle school cultural literacy teachers at the Environmental Charter School in Pittsburgh, and Daniel Harrold, a high school English/Language Arts teacher in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, have all deployed a variety of strategies using games in their classrooms. Key to each teacher is the ability to use the game-based learning elements to make learning more engaging. This includes strategies such as: rewarding success using badges, leveling of tasks, personalizing learning, and becoming a maker or creator.


1David shared and demonstrated via a Google Hangout many of the tools and strategies he deploys. One of the keys to engaging his fifth grade students is the use of “badging” through My Big Campus, a learning management system from Lightspeed. David designs badges based on the academic skills he wants his students to display. For instance, this past year he created an Environmental Researcher badge. The students received the badge if they demonstrated their ability to address a Focus (Driving) Question. In addition to David’s work with his students, his principal has also discovered that badging can be a motivator for the professional staff to demonstrate teaching skills.

Da2niel Harrold works with high school students. He has created a game “Escapades through British Literature” where students received badges to demonstrate the mastery of skills and concepts relating to English beyond the standard, required curriculum. According to Daniel, “These badges are not only rewarding in themselves but also lead to higher grades (students need at least one of three possible badges per quarter to earn an “A”) but also to “level-up” (acquiring 3, 6, or 8 badges grants the student new powers in the game). Badges allow students to personalize their learning experience.”

Leveling of Tasks

Not all students start at the same place or move at the same speed through a game. It’s important to have an entry level where all students have success and then increase the complexity of the tasks to keep challenging the learner. In Daniel Harrold’s English class students are not simply students completing academic tasks, they are time travelers on a QUEST through British Literature History. Daniel explained, “Each unit, or QUEST follows a similar pattern: Questions, Understanding, Explore, Synthesis, and Test. The Questions are the overall learning goals for the unit. Students must ultimately demonstrate mastery of these concepts to advance to the next level. To accomplish this, students travel through four types of assignments. The first, Understanding, is the background knowledge level. This is where I will deliver direct instruction via video, text, or online content. This is most similar to the “tutorial” level of a game. In the Explore stage, students read the text and interact with it, via discussion boards, class conversation, small group work, or any other option they see fit. This is similar to the “exploration” level of a game in which the player must find a dungeon, or seek out clues. In the Synthesis stage, players created a project-based assessment piece, which ties all the information together, similar to how gamers will defeat a dungeon using new skills or weapons. The final stage, Test, is the boss battle in which students must complete the paper or essay only. In all assignments, students are graded on a mastery scale. If they score 85% or higher and receive full XP, but if they don’t, they must improve their work until they hit the mark. Students who exceed expectations can be awarded with “gems” or a bonus XP.”


David takes a slightly different strategy. He uses several tools that allow for adaptive practices by his students. FrontRow is one application that allows David to see student performance and then group students based on their performance solving complex math problems. The students compete to earn “coins” and see their status on a Leaderboard.


Another tool that David uses to level instruction is ScootPad. Again students receive rewards for activities that are linked to math, reading, or vocabulary standards.

Personalized Learning

There are a variety of definitions for personalizing learning. I’ll use the approach recommended by Kathleen McClaskey and Barbara Bray ( They see personalized learning as a strategy that empowers the learner to make choices based on their interests, strengths, and weaknesses. The key is the fact that each learner is part of the instructional process. It’s not just the teacher making the instructional learning path decision. That would be an individualized learning approach. The same is true for differentiating instruction. While both individualized learning and differentiating have personal elements, they do not give the learner the control for their learning.

David shares the responsibility for the learning with his students. Games provide opportunities for individual pathways. Students have ownership of their learning through “BigCampus.”

5Using BigCampus students now have a place to see their achievements (badges), develop a social network of “Followers” and other students who “Follow” them, and can post information to a Wall. It’s really a private Facebook environment that is now shared with a learning community.


Daniel Harrold sees gaming in his classroom as a tool towards “autonomy.” I see his definition of autonomy as personalized learning. According to Daniel, “The biggest advantage and goal of Gamification is the pursuit of autonomy. If Gamification is simply used as a behaviorist model on steroids, it risks actually making students less self-regulated, and more dependent on external rewards. The design is key in order to give students flexibility and differentiation so they may mold their own learning experiences, and play the game not only to “win”, or “finish” or “earn an ‘A’” but to gain more autonomy.”

Michelle King and Nick Kaczmarek use game-based learning to empower their sixth grade students. They work in teams of two where the students become colonists or civilization builders. Like Daniel Harrold, Michelle and Nick’s students shape their own experiences by the choices they make in the “Big Game” – the analog game that the students create to address an Essential Question about history, geography, or economics. By giving the students autonomy, the students own their learning. They discover resources, engage in research, and reflect on the implications of their choices.


Unlike Daniel Harrold and David Dulberger Michelle and Nick’s students develop the structure and rules for their academic “Big Game.” New mechanics occur as the game progresses based on student choices. For instance in one game “growing crops was not part of the original game” Nick explained. After the game progressed students felt that new features should be added. As part of the structure of the game students developed their own scoring system. Michelle added, “They created an algorithm for what constituted ‘happiness’ for their cultural group.”


The teachers I approached use a variety of game-based learning strategies to engage and empower their students. In each case the students play a key role in the game. The students make personal choices and are rewarded for their risk-taking. They sometimes may lose, since games by their nature have winners and losers. However, unlike a traditional classroom the students see “losing” as a strategy for getting better or defeating an opponent at another level. In the end all the students are winners. They have evidence – badges or their own learning – that they mastered something. Students in all three classrooms whether an elementary, middle, and high school level, are engaged and actively involved in learning content, dispositions, and processes that will make them successful life-long learners.