Monday, November 7, 2016

Video Game Design and Computer Coding at High School

One of the first games that students create in the video game design class.
As computers become an ever increasing presence in our daily lives, there is a growing realization about the importance for students to learn the fundamentals of computer coding. Even for students who don't pursue a future career directly in coding, educators and many employers are realizing the benefits of having a coding background. Coding helps build critical thinking and problem solving skills. And for students interested in coding careers, there is strong evidence that points to multiple options and opportunities in their future based on both the current shortage of computer programmers and the projected increasing need for even more.

This is the third year Minnetonka has a computer coding curriculum that begins in kindergarten. Tonka<codes> starts in the elementary years and continues up through high school, with numerous opportunities for students to learn about coding and computer science. At our high school level, there are a variety of elective computer science and coding classes that students can take:

  1. IB Computer Science HL
  2. AP Comp Sci Principles 
  3. Game IT Video Game Design 
  4. Advanced Video Game Design (Semester II)
  5. Mobile App Design
  6. AP Computer Science A

Recently I went to each of these high school classes to talk with some of the 75 students enrolled and the two teachers of these courses. I met a range of students, from die hard programmers planning on a computer science major in college to students who were just exploring this interest as an elective. The courses and curriculum were all very engaging. Students were involved in simulations and creating actual programs, apps, and video games. The tools they use to learn to do this are so much more visual and seemingly easier to understand than I remember the limited coding experiences I had. It made me wish that I could take these classes myself!

Construct 2 screen showing students visually how code works.
For example, in Game It: Video Game Design I, instructor Nick Bahr has 16 students in grades 9-12 who are in the semester long class. The course description is as follows: 
In this project-based course, students will develop working computer games using Construct 2 software. Students are introduced to the fundamental principles of game design and development using an object oriented language. The content includes practical experiences in conceptualization, storyboarding, development methodologies, color theory, the use of math and physics in video games, audio/sound effects design, graphic design and animation, and implementation. Students will also research careers in the gaming industry. Instructional methods include entry-level use of Construct 2 software, to design, develop, and edit class video games. The class will also include classroom assignments, quizzes, tests and projects related to the video game industry. Students should be interested in video game design and have basic computer, math and problem-solving skills.
A screen shot of a custom shell
for an ambulance that Jacob was
making on his own at home. 
One of the students I spoke with during my visit was a ninth grader named Jacob. Jacob is an avid video gamer, and through our conversation I learned that he also really enjoys designing components of the games he plays, like GTA (Grand Theft Auto) and Emergency Responders. Jacob designs custom skins/shells for the emergency vehicles in these games as well as designs and textures the uniforms for the first responders. He was excited to show me examples of his work and is very interested in pursuing a career in video game set design. Another student I spoke with, Chloe, was an avid player of Minecraft, and she explained to me that she was also very interested in the scene design of video games. Until meeting these students, I hadn't even thought about this aspect of coding and video game creation. 

Besides video game design, I also spoke with students who were designing mobile apps, learning Java, learning how to code image compression and build user input forms. It was great to visit with many of our students and learn how these coding classes are offering them ways to further pursue their passions and interests!

Skins for police cars that Jacob designed.
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