Engaging Students Using Game Design

Guest Post by Brian Wetzel, Zulama Certified Trainer and Star Teacher

pic04Who is not interested in games? Games build relationships, teach the concept of rules, and, in serious games, promote the idea of consequences in choices we make. Most games also provide the opportunity to spark creativity in style, gameplay, and strategy. Creating them utilizes a multitude of skills, including elements of STEAM, and other 21st century skills, such as problem-solving and collaboration.

As a game designer, one must consider all these factors when brainstorming the creation of the next big game. Whether that game is a board game, card game, or video game is irrelevant. Game designers must make their games easy to learn, hard to master, and adaptable to different styles and preferences, among other characteristics. Otherwise, a game can be doomed from the beginning.

pic07As a teacher of game design, I make every attempt to ensure my students understand these characteristics and plan for them at the beginning. Elements of STEAM present themselves instantaneously and consistently throughout the process. In the early phases of design, artistic elements are used when drawing and designing graphics that will be used in the game. Engineering skills such as 3D modeling are often considered for game pieces and/or characters. Mathematics is constantly used when deciding proper size and proportions as well as distances that are necessary to be traveled for game sprites. Finally, in most cases, technology is used for the creation of each of these pieces.

As I continue to help my students in their quests to become game designers, I hope to see consistent progression of these skills. While I do not teach traditional courses like science and math, I have already witnessed progress in the areas of curiosity and creativity. My students are growing into young adults who are more curious about their mistakes and why they are occurring. They don’t rely on me as much to explain the problem(s), but rather take it upon themselves to explore what they have done to create the problem. Most importantly, they don’t see their mistakes as failure, but rather learning experiences.

BxL9r4VIYAA9gJ6As I continue to help create the gamemakers of tomorrow, I hope to get feedback of the same fashion from their other teachers. I hope this curiosity spreads to other areas of their lives. I am sure it will. In my opinion, this growing sense of motivation and curiosity is not a switch they can turn off. It will become habit in all areas of their lives. They will continue to seek understanding rather than just ask for answers. And although they will continue to make mistakes, to them, it will only translate to more learning.

Brian Wetzel

Upon completing his undergraduate work, Brian began teaching in 2005. For the first seven years of his career, he served as a 7th grade mathematics teacher for the Licking Heights Local School District. During this time, he saw the value of technology in education and decided to pursue this interest by earning his Master’s degree in Educational Technology. Upon completing his graduate degree, Brian transitioned into teaching technology-related courses at the high school level for Centerburg Local Schools. As he continues his career, Brian plans to help students enhance their technology skills as well as help other educators learn ways to integrate technology into their curricula.

STEAM: Bringing the Arts to STEM – Part 2

We’re joined by Don Marinelli, Dianna Stavros (@imaginationHA), Bob Yost, and Anthony Pezzelle (@impulsivejedi) to discuss the connection between the Arts and STEM. Listen in to hear our guests talk about STEAM connecting different content areas, keeping the excitement flowing in your classroom, and being a more inclusive approach to education.

Part 2 of 2


STEAM: Bringing the Arts to STEM – Part 1

We’re joined by Don Marinelli, Dianna Stavros (@imaginationHA), Bob Yost, and Anthony Pezzelle (@impulsivejedi) to discuss the connection between the Arts and STEM. Listen in to hear our guests talk about STEAM connecting different content areas, keeping the excitement flowing in your classroom, and being a more inclusive approach to education.

Part 1 of 2

The Holographic Quality Of STEAM

dmarinelliGuest Post by Don Marinelli, Ph.D, Co-founder of Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center

Have you ever equated “STEAM” with a “hologram”? It takes a creative thinker like Dr Marinelli to paint this [3D] picture!

A hologram is a photographic recording of a light field, created with a laser rather than a lens, and is used to display a fully three-dimensional image of the holographed subject.

In a holograph, the image is captured and contained within every piece of the holographic plate. If you cut a hologram into a hundred parts, you might think that each individual part will show a separate area of the image, but that’s not the case. With holograms, each of the smaller parts still contains a reflection of the complete, whole, 3-dimensional image.

That’s precisely the case with STEAM education. Each distinctive element of STEAM contains all the other elements. Think about your favorite animated movie, say, FROZEN. That movie, a marvel of animation, a beautiful example of bringing imaginary characters to life and endowing them with human attributes, is impossible to create without science, technology, engineering, and math, all in the service of the intrinsic “art” of the movie.

The science involves anatomy, light, timing, color, physiognomy; the math is manifest in proportion, object relationships, depth perception, cause-and-effect, and other fundamental Newtonian laws. The technology exists in the form of the computers, cameras and lighting used to make and store the movie digits or cells, while the engineering is the projection, audio, 3D and 4D systems, and the actual cinema space where we watch the movie.

We cannot divorce any one of these elements from the experiential whole without detrimental effect.

And yet, we do so in education. Every day. How strange.

STEAM is all around us. A building that is functional and yet impresses us by its design is the result of STEAM. Math is the engineering foundation for the building’s tensile strength, weight bearing stresses, and ability to withstand forces of nature. The building houses myriad technologies both digital (Internet, sensors, monitors), as well as analog (plumbing, conduits, electrical). And, it all comes together as an architectural marvel, an artistic sculpture in the cityscape.

STEAM is a technical way of saying – and promoting – what used to be called “Whole Brain Thinking.” It is the natural bridging of left-brain organizational, systematic thought with right-brain non-linearity and creativity. And, what is truly remarkable is that this form of thinking is an ontological reality for all children. It is manifest in a child’s curiosity and desire to make meaning.

Society has somehow devised the means of educating it out of children.

It is time for that to stop.


Join us for our next live Remake Learning Hangout on March 29th at 2:30 PM EST, STEAM: Bringing the Arts to STEM. We will continue this discussion by providing strategies to bring STEAM education to a classroom near you!


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.

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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

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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

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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.

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