I aimed my gun carefully at the unsuspecting deer, which grazed across the river. Everything rode on this shot. My starving family needed the meat to survive the cruel prairie winter. Holding my breath, I fired, and - a screen flashed across my computer, notifying me that we had all perished of cholera.
If you’re a Millennial like me, you probably grew up dying repeatedly in either The Oregon Trail or other popular computer games. While gaming has taken a lot of heat for contributing to obesity, anxiety, and poor social skills, more recent critics praise the positive effects of moderate gameplay - improved hand-eye coordination, teamwork, critical thinking, and even physical activity (i.e. Just Dance 2018). Most young gamers are full of imagination and long to create their own games, or even game mods (modifications that build off existing games). But doing so requires coding - something these gamers know little about.
That’s where Zulama comes in.
Aaron and I first heard about Zulama this past July at the CSTA (Computer Science Teacher Association) Conference in Baltimore, MD. Anna Roberts, Zulama’s Chief Marketing Officer, greeted us at the company’s booth. She explained the company’s drive to educate high schoolers in game coding through their online platform. With the platform, students can gain skills from programming to screenwriting to 3D modeling, as well as teamwork, focus, and perseverance. These skills can translate to real-world jobs at giants like Pixar and Blizzard! With coding as a common language, we instantly clicked with Anna and discussed incorporating Zulama into our Lab29 camps.
Anna doesn’t mess around. She followed up with us the next week to help us pick the best Zulama package to complement our existing curriculum. We chose the high school version of Game Design Fundamentals, a week-long program comprising nine modules. These modules range in topic from “Games from American History” to “Arcade Game Design” to “The Business of Games!” In other words, we can educate students on topics like history, mathematics, and business, all with the backdrop of games!
Last week, Zulama trainer Ben Smith facilitated our onboarding session. Using Google Hangout, we were able to learn more about the curriculum and how we can work with communities to tailor it for their classrooms. To illustrate Zulama's method, Ben had Aaron and I play the card game War - but with a twist. Instead of picking the winner based on the higher card, we each threw down two cards and added the cards’ values. The cards’ combined value indicated the winner.
Curious, I asked Ben where he was going with this. “Great question,” he said. “It’s up to you to make the rules.” As Aaron and I experimented with the game, adding and altering our own rules, we quickly saw the parallel with Zulama. By transforming a familiar game with math and new rules, Zulama creates an engaging learning opportunity with room for mistakes, adjustments, and do-overs. We saw clearly how game design works well to teach students to think critically, write clear and concise processes, and practice math skills in a fun way.
Throughout the next several weeks, we will finish up our training and develop lesson plans. We are so excited to see what we create, and we can’t wait to share it all with you!
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Chashmi, MSc, Maliheh, Hedayati, DDS, Nasim, and Zamani, Ph.D., Eshrat. “Effect of Addiction to Computer Games on Physical and Mental Health of Female and Male Students of Guidance School in City of Isfahan.” Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Fall 2009. Web. 26 October 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905489/
Grayson, Lee. “Does Playing Computer Games Negatively Affect Children?” Livestrong.com. Leaf Group Ltd. 22 October 2015. Web. 26 October 2017.