The classroom is one of the least likely places you’d expect to see video games. But they are actually welcomed at Mechanicsburg High School.
Reading, writing codes and arithmetic are part of Mechanicsburg’s curriculum, thanks to a video game building program called Zulama, now in its second year at the school.
Zulama teaches students how to build video games by incorporating hands-on learning that will not just teach them now, but may help them in tomorrow’s workplace.
Mechanicsburg is one of the few schools in the state to offer Zulama currently, which is a point of pride for Mechanicsburg Superintendent Danielle Prohaska.
“We think it sets us apart for a small school,” she said. “We knew it was a great fit. Connecting students to real-life applications and using content-based principles is a powerful way to learn.”
Scott Wasserman was the school’s principal when Zulama was presented and immediately knew it was worth exploring. The coursework was a big factor in his leaving administration to return to the classroom as the entertainment technology teacher.
“As a school we’ve tried to be progressive, trying to make sure we can offer the best for our kids,” he said.
For Wasserman, it was a natural fit.
“I’m a video game aficionado. I grew up in the ’80s and played all the games then,” he said.
While it seems out of place in a classroom setting, Zulama actually incorporates a number of academic areas such as social studies, math, computer programming and more.
There are three components. The first is a course on the evolution of games, tracing their origins way back to the Mesopotamian and other ancient cultures through World War II to the modern day. Wasserman was surprised to find how many kids had never tried a board game.
The second component has the students working on making games and combines that with how to use a program. There is also coding and learning how to recreate the games of other designers.
The third component uses 3-D modeling similar to popular games like “Halo.”
Senior Cameron Roudebush is in his element with Zulama, and not because playing video games is his favorite activity. He’s been building computers since he was 10 years old and plans on studying computer science in college.
“I love it,” said Roudebush. “This is going to help me a lot for college.”
Though video games are often criticized for making kids anti-social, Wasserman said there’s a social aspect in Zulama of getting to know people better, working together and making new friends.
One of the components lets students work together by playing to strengths — one will be a designer, another could do the creative end and so on.
Roudebush said there’s a lot of friendly competition to see who creates the best games. He created a game that allows the player to run from platform to platform and collect coins.
He recommends Zulama classes for any student with an interest in gaming.
“If you’ve played games, anybody can do it,” Roudebush said. “If you have the ideas and are ready to learn, you can do it.”
The future includes students possibly creating games for other teachers to use on tablets or even for adult education, said Prohaska. She can envision eventually expanding to include the language and art departments.
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