This week’s blog is from Maria Dixon, veteran web developer, talented graphic designer and now educator extraordinaire!  Maria may be the solution to bringing more young people into the world of coding as she has a knack for getting students interested in tech stuff. Read on as Maria connects the classroom to Geekend, the growing must-attend event for learners of all ages! FYI – The Creative Coast’s blogspot is Savannah’s sounding board for local thinkers, innovators, wanderers and wonders. Guest bloggers share their thoughts, opinions and creative noodling from all over the map… .

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. The sun was shining. The marsh grass gently swaying in the wind. I was starting on my second week of teaching. Ever. I had an ambitious list of goals that I wanted for my first year, including having students participate in Railsbridge Savannah and the Geekend Student Arcade. The students file into the classroom, and the minute hand reaches closer to the time. I did research and asked friendly nerds their suggestions before settling on stencyl. It’s a free program that has drag and drop coding formats that can be used to create simple or complex games. I closed the door to the room and made the announcement, “For the past few years students have been creating their own games and submitting them to the Student Arcade. At this point we have not seen anything submitted from St. Andrew’s. This year that’s going to change.” I could see them beginning to get excited. “Starting today we’re going to learn how to make our own games.” The first hand goes up, “Does that mean we’re going to be making our own games?” “Yes.” And at this point there were a few high fives going around the room. The plan was to send the top 4 games as voted on by our students to Geekend. After the excitement came the work. Unfortunately playing video games is a lot easier and has more built in rewards than building them. For the first couple of days, I tried using the overhead projector and going through the tutorials with them, but that made the task seem more daunting and I think a few of them fell asleep. It was at that point that I decided to structure the class in the style of the Railsbridge courses. Students follow a tutorial and once they are stuck they raise their hand for help. Day 1 of this approach was a mess. I think there was a moment when all of the students had their hand up. Day 2, I put them into working pods. Work together, talk, collaborate. Look to your neighbor first and if the two of you are unable to find the answer together then ask me. This worked much better. Their confidence grew and with every problem they were able to solve on their own the more they wanted to explore. More importantly they were taking pride in the work and building it for themselves, not for a grade. When I offered Saturday sessions they came. When I offered to meet them during lunch and break they came. Their first deadline was a week before Geekend. We put their games online and sent out a survey to all of the students to play and vote on each game. I was so proud of all of them for their effort, and I felt just as nervous as they did when the surveys went out. The results came in and the 4 top games were decided, one of which was by a landslide. Only two days before the end of round 1, the student that would go on to place first at the Geekend Student Arcade was so frustrated that he almost didn’t submit his game. He raised his hand, and when I sat down beside him he quietly said that he couldn’t get his game to work and he didn’t know what to do. I asked him what wasn’t working and he just kept shaking his head. I sat beside him waiting for a response, but he just looked at the screen. I told him how proud I was of him and that I knew he could do it. That night he deleted his game and started completely over. The next day at school the students that sat beside him came up to me at break and asked if I had played his new game. I played it, and loved it. The next Saturday was the Student Arcade, what a blast! Every monitor blaring a student created game. It was amazing to get to see so many kids and adults enjoying these games. It really hit me then what they had accomplished. What all of the students had worked so hard to achieve. A playable game. The takeaway for me was that although the majority of my students will not pursue video game making as a career, they have gained the knowledge that they can rely on themselves and each other to learn in and outside of the classroom. Sometimes the most important lesson is learning that you truly are capable of the task you set your mind to. Maria]]>

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