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By the members and director of Rockettech

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Posted by on in Uncategorized
A few weeks ago, President Sarah Baumgartner Skyped with Lisa Castenada, the CEO of Foundry 10.  Being a female leader in Rockettech, she had a handful of questions regarding how to better the other members of the club and presented them to Lisa who, as a major leadership role in the Valve corporation, aided Sarah in answering them.
The two discussed the members of Rockettech traveling out to Seattle in the summer time and a major video project that Sarah Baumgartner and Paiten Dulany will be heading up while out there.  Although the over all message of the video will encourage girls to consider technology fields and is to be female directed.
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Posted by on in Uncategorized
Near the beginning of the 2014 school year, Rockettech was presented was a major networking opportunity with Valve, an international gaming and software development company located in Seattle, Washington.  Their research department, Foundry 10, flew out their CEO and lead developer, Lisa Castaneda and Tom Swanson, to small-town Pandora-Gilboa High school.  Once they arrived at the school and got acquainted, Lisa and Tom met with Rockettech officers and members through out the day. Some personal meeting, other's group meetings, they asked about the components that Rockettech has in order to function as an entrepreneurial tech club. Lisa and Tom were also curious as to why these student joined Rockettech in the first place and what aspects were appealing and motivating to them. All of the information they gathered was used to determine if the system of Rockettech was transferable to other schools near them in the city and across the nation. Rockettech directer, Mark Suter, and some students have been in continuous contact since the visit.


Not only is this a great real-world networking experience for students, but also an opportunity for some students to escape the "small-town" vibe of Pandora-Gilboa. Lisa and some girls in Rockettech are collaborating on a video project yet to be titled. In order to complete the video, some students and Mr. Suter may fly our to Valve headquarters in the summer of 2015.
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Posted by on in Uncategorized
Welcome to the presidents desk!  The names Sarah Baumgartner, actress wanna-be, hopeful writer and current president of the Rockettech club.  I'm going to be keeping a log of what we do in this  club of ours here because, frankly, we kind of do a lot and have a hard time keeping track of everything.  So...this blogging ride shall begin.
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Last August, 6 high school students and I converted our tech club into a small business. We had no idea what we were doing. This is an overview of our experience in hopes that other teachers will feel encouraged to take the same journey. It’s an incredibly satisfying ride for both the students and the teacher.
Presenting our tech club's services at the Ottawa
Area Chamber of Commerce in September 2013

These students wanted more than the mock projects, so I challenged them, “What if you test your skills in the real world, providing real services in web and video?” They responded and that was it. We knew going in we would fail sometimes, maybe even miserably. I offered that they can forget about the grade, and instead focus on being a successful small business disguised as a tech club. Everyone gets an “A”. Now what? What do you have to worry about? No homework, no tests. It was a precarious recipe. One I fully expected to flop in my face. Of course, the inverse happened. The mutual risk taking of teacher and students fed energy into each day’s class, and we built on that.

The first week of school we frantically pieced together a master plan which included a formal business plan, marketing strategy, logo/branding, and how projects should be structured. Our business plan (available on rockettech.org) was developed with the free service from sba.gov, and clearly articulates what our services are, who our competition is, and what differentiates us from them. We create win-win-win situations that benefits the business, the students, and the school.

Our marketing strategy was simple: 1) Ask local businesses to give us a chance, even if it’s for free. The Chamber of Commerce is a good place to start. 2) Show the print, tv, and web news outlets what we’re doing and ask for a story.  3) Approach new businesses with our growing portfolio of work.

We decided each project would have a “project lead”. This student ultimately makes the final design decisions, ensures deadlines are met, and makes all client communications. As in life, they can use anyone or any resource (legally) to create professional work. They must learn to find and utilize resources other than the teacher, a ubiquitous problem that manifests as a line at my desk in some classes. Project leads OWN their projects, and take pride in producing a quality service. They are no longer playing the student role, and shift into the professional world.
Students shooting a video for Celebrate Recovery
Drug and Alcohol Support Group

By Christmas break, we had more projects than we had students, making some students balance multiple project lead roles. We had to review time management and I did my best to model what good professional communication looks like in email, on the phone, and in person. Every single student, even the straight-A ones, made massive improvements in these areas.

We were fortunate to make it through the snow and ice to present at the OETC conference in Columbus in February (“Gamify Your Tech Club for Fun and Profit”) and by years end we had a nice group portfolio that included churches, non-profits, a retirement home, individual entrepreneurs, a government agency, and a personal healthcare company.

Throughout the school year, I made a point to give as much control to the students as possible.  Specifically, I let the students dictate what we did with the money. I felt that if they truly did the work, and only needed me to consult with at key points, they really did earn it. I explained reinvesting in the club to get better equipment to land bigger clients, but the final decision was theirs. If they wanted $1000 worth of Skittles, fine. Maybe this approach only worked because this was a sensible group (we didn’t get the Skittles), but I believe they carefully weighed these decisions because they invested themselves into these projects. Their decisions finally mattered beyond a grading scale.

I encourage other teachers to integrate at least or some of the elements of our experiment into their own business, computer tech, or graphic design courses. Specifically, put kids in situations where their decisions matter and their work can be seen by a larger audience. The excitement reciprocates between student and teacher. Decide going in that it’s good to fail. A sign in my room states “Fail Harder.” asking that students fail big, take a risk, and come back from it with lessons learned.
Sarah and Brad await their turn in the spotlight on WLIO
in spring 2014.

Some word’s from last years students (verbatim):
“(the clients) walked out of the room feeling as if they didn't just deal with a kid in a tech class the dealt with a professional and my entire life i've been looked as the juvenile in the classroom and then i dealt with 2 powerful individuals and they treated me as an adult because i've earned the right to be treated as one because of my professionalism”

“...there's a calm yet exciting feeling I get, and I know THIS is where I'm supposed to be right now.”
“But in the end i still hate school but when i walked into my last period of the day and got down to business it didnt feel like i was in school i felt as if i was hanging with a group of my buddies having a blast earning cash”

“...forced me to interact with other students who I normally would not have the chance to, for reasons such as grade differences, conflicting class schedules, and even differing cliques.
...all it takes is that tiny spark of curiosity to start a wildfire of imagination and ingenuity.”
Original author: Mr. Suter
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We have coders. We need creative problem solvers that also code.

My high school students will likely need a job some day (I actively encourage them to not be dependent on the government if they can help it), and these jobs will likely involve computers in some way. While they may not become expert programmers developing software, the very pursuit of understanding the 1's and 0's will make them better problem solvers, systematic thinkers, and help them understand that the consumption of their daily technology is only a fraction of the overall picture.

Some say we're heading toward a major shortage of qualified individuals in computer science. We need to reverse this trend and get more students interested in computer science. I don't consider the use of games as incentivizing computer science. Rather, I consider it situated learning with real-world application, a missing component in many intro to CS classes.
GameMaker Studio software being used to develop game design
curriculum within 3DGameLab with ties to Computer Science

Why video games?

What I propose is "easing" students into computer science by first developing their confidence through positive experiences in the form of creating simple yet fun video games. This confidence has lead to creativity in my classroom, and more students that want to branch outside of video games into more complex programming languages (which I don't claim to understand). By working phrases such as, "IF my character has no health...THEN what all events should take place?", students become accustomed to identifying and planning the steps of a game program, and have been able to transfer this thinking into beginner-level Python programs as young as 6th grade. During a Python turtle exercise I heard, Without prompting, one student tell another, "remember in your game, where as long as ammo is greater than zero, your guy will keep shooting...and each time he shoots ammo goes down one...that's like what 'for i in range' does in turtle".

Is Game Design "Computational Thinking"?

By the CSTA's definition of "computational thinking",
game programming seems to be a good fit.
The Computer Science Teachers Association  uses a working definition of Computational Thinking that can be boiled down to using a computer to solve problems using models and simulations through an automated series of steps (an algorithm) that can then be transferred to other, more complicated problems (Computer Science Teachers Assocation [CSTA], 2011). The complete definition is here.

Creating video games using the freely available GameMaker Studio for example, addresses this definition in that:
"use a computer to solve problems" - all work is done on a PC, Mac, or Linux. The problem is both any particular feature of a game the designer wants to include in their game, and those mistakes that arise from mistakes. For example, the power-up dot in Pac-Man that temporarily changes how collisions between characters behave."...using models and simulations" - The game being created can be ran in debug mode which allows the programmer to simulate the player's perspective, playing the game. Debug mode gives a behind-the-curtain look at the status, position, and other variables of game objects and what they are doing while the user plays the game. It also provides errors in layman's terms that help find the fault, aiding the programmer in troubleshooting."...through an automated series of steps" - GameMaker code runs 30 "steps" per second. It can be automated by using if-then statements, alarms (like alarm clocks that trigger another set of actions), and other methods that provide game programmers control of how the program behaves without intervention from the player, all within a pre-programmed sequence."...that can be transferred to other, more complicated problems" -  The use of loops, variables, and if-then statements are concepts many programming languages have in common. By mastering these early, students use these ideas to solve increasingly difficult problems. For example, the initial "if can_shoot = 1" allowing the player to shoot can later increase to control a boss character's patterned shooting with a more complicated series of delay-and-shoot patterns that vary as boss_health decreases.

While potentially a conflict of interest, Mark Overmars (Original creator of the GameMaker game design software) described the use of game design to teach computer science concepts as actually covering several aspects of computing, including, "computer graphics, artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, security, distributed programming, simulation, and software engineering" (Overmars, 2004). Familiarity with these topics are essential for students hoping to land one of the one million jobs that will go unfilled in computer programming due to a lack of qualified candidates (code.org, 2013).

Video Games are Engaging

It seems that teens like to play games. According to Pew Internet 
Research (Lenhart et al., 2008), making them prime candidates for playing the role of designer to make their own games. Teen boys and girls both play games, with 99% of boys and 94% of girls reporting playing games in the most recent week (Lenhart et al., 2008). Presenting a game design curriculum to younger teens may prove even more successful in 5th through 7th grades as they were even more likely to have played games yesterday than the their older counterparts (Lenhart et al., 2008).

Creating these games can also be engaging...when a student has enough confidence in their working knowledge to apply it as challenges pop up. I was initially turned off to programming as my experiences as a student involved the skimming of fundamentals that I didn't internalize, leading to a bunch of programming challenges that were endlessly frustrating as I didn't feel I had any idea where to start.


Still a theory

Relatively little research has been done on whether a student learning to program a video game correlates with learning computer science. Likewise, it may be a matter of interpretation on whether understanding programming concepts through a drag-and-drop design interface constitutes a foundation of computer science knowledge in the first place, and further, whether it leads to a higher enrollment in college CS.

Researcher credentials? Meh.

We educators on the front lines can implement and test such a teaching strategy as effectively as those with more letters behind their name. While more formal researchers may have deeper statistical analysis and better channels to disseminate results, we classroom teachers aren't half-bad at creating a curriculum using games as learning tools.

One such study about students creating video games as a means to teach computer science actually determined that students were divided on whether or not the use of GameMaker software helped them learn computer science concepts (Ernst & Clark, 2011). While this could be attributed to teachers inconsistently tying what students have learned back to the overarching CS concepts, it is worth reading if considering this approach.

Possible Implementations

Steve Isaacs
Game Dev Teacher Guy
1) In August 2013, a colleague of mine, Mr. Steve Isaacs (he teaches game development to his blogs about game development in education) and I will be joining with gaming-in-school pioneer Lucas Gillispie (The Wow in School and Minecraft in School guy!) to work with teens at the online Teen GameLab summer camp. We'll be hosting live sessions (like this one last night using GameMaker tilesets and multiple enemy health bars)on digital storytelling and designing video games, but much of the work will be done by the "campers" asynchronously through the quest-based learning platform 3DGameLab.
students and

2) Another teacher, Mike Skocko (and his exemplary educator site The Mac Lab)in California is
Mike Skocko
aka "boss"
utilizing student talent to develop a quest-based learning Wordpress Plugin in-house to teach everything from game design and programming to video and image editing.

Next?

While a foundation of game-based learning research is being assembled, I'll just keep playing making video games with my students, learning more everyday. I've figured out the key is to never stop being a student myself, and it all stays fresh feeling and fun.



References


code.org (2013). What's wrong with this picture? Retrieved from http://www.code.org/stats


Ernst, J. V., & Clark, A. C. (2012). Fundamental Computer Science Conceptual Understandings for High School Students Using Original Computer Game Design. Journal of STEM Education: Innovations and Research13(5), 40-45.

Lenhart, A.,Kahne, J., Middaugh, E., Macgill, A., Evans, C., & Vitak, J. (2008). Teens, Video Games and Civics. Retrived from Pew Research Center website: http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Teens-Video-Games-and-Civics/04-11-Who-Is-Playing-Games.aspx?view=all

Overmars, M. (2004). Teaching computer science through game design.Computer37(4), 81-83.



Original author: Mr. Suter
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