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This Month’s Learning Innovation: Gaming at Propel Braddock Hills

The ninth graders in Matt Fuchs’ English class at Propel Braddock Hills High School are furiously hunched over their computers. In the front of the class, an image is projected on a large screen. At closer view, it looks like they’re playing video games. Yes, that’s exactly what they are doing – and on class time. What’s going on here?

“They are using Minecraft (a video game) to study the abuse of power as well as a narrative writing unit,” Matt, their teacher, explains. “We set up this little community on Minecraft EDU, and we put a hierarchy in place. Some kids are politicians who were elected by the class, so it’s half a social experiment to see how they handle that power and that will become a reflective piece for them later on. That’s our Civics’ link up.

“For the English portion, the kids are journaling as their characters, and every day they owe me a daily journal based on what they did in the game. They are writing based on the game’s character’s perspective. It gives them a basis for their narrative work,” Matt continues. “They are these characters, and they write as these characters. But because it’s set in a fictional world they can expand – they can become creative.”

More and more educators are using games in their classes. Matt, for example, hooks up with the Civics teacher to look at issues like social justice – based on the Minecraft game. “The basic principle,” he says, “comes back to student engagement. That’s one of the core beliefs that I have as an educator. And I mean, let’s face it, kids love games. They’ll play them whether you want them to or not, so it’s a matter of harnessing that power and that draw and using that for my English purposes, as devious as they are.”

At Propel Braddock Hills High School School of Innovation and Design, games play a big part in the curriculum. There are courses in video game design. Students in the Shop class just produced a mini-golf course as a class project – with help and input from the Geometry and Engineering classes. Art and Shop students design arcade cabinets and decorate them. There are classic video games in the school loft where students can come and “chill out” between classes. And students participated in a national game conference held at Propel this past October.

Co-Principal Justin Aglio believes that all forms of gaming have great merit educationally. “Games are important because number one, it’s problem solving. But we also like games because they give students an opportunity to fail, keep retrying, and retrying over and over again. It’s an important life skill, to be able to fail at something and then go ahead and continue it and be successful at it.”

Justin is proud of the breadth of “gaming” offered at Propel. “This past fall, for example, we held a national game conference here, with over 100 educators from eight states attending, talking about how educators can use games to help students in the classroom. We also had something called JamTek, where students were able to participate in a one day session to learn how to make a video game in one day. Then they got the chance to showcase that game at the end of the day.”

Teachers use the Pennsylvania Common Core standards in all of these classes, and they teach according to the state requirements. But they are getting very creative in how to bring skills – like writing, math, art, and engineering – to students in a non-traditional way.

“Our teachers plan with our game design teacher to create a lesson that’s meaningful for the students. Everything we do, we focus on our students,” Justin says. “Gaming is going to help our students in the future because it helps them learn to use strategy. They learn critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and they have the option to just have fun with it and continue to grow.”

“Our students get their hands on something and get to play with it; they’re learning concepts but having fun with it. And most importantly, they’re learning critical skills for the 21st Century,” Justin adds.

They also develop pride in their work. Student Josh proudly shows off the video arcade game in the school’s entrance hallway that he helped design. “We started out with just a big sheet of plywood,” Josh explains. “I cut it down, made all the shapes and then I pretty much pieced it together piece by piece and customized it from that. I wired it up all by myself,” he says. “I see a lot of kids using my game, and I’m surprised they like it so much,” he adds with a big smile on his face.

Back in Matt Fuchs’ English class, the students are still fully engaged, working away on their computers. “From watching the students work in their ‘communities,’ I see them developing skills like cooperation, digital citizenship, time planning skills – all these things they’re going to need throughout their lives. But they get to learn it playing it out in this little digital world.”

propelschools.org

Chartiers Valley High School Receives Major STEM Honor

Chartiers Valley High School has been named an FETC STEM Excellence Award finalist, one of three schools from around the country to receive this honor. These awards were created to recognize excellence and innovation in the field of STEM education at the primary, middle and high school levels.

Schools were evaluated based on the STEM education experience they provide, including the school’s use of interdisciplinary curriculum, collaboration, design and problem solving. “This award validates the hard work our teachers and students are doing in this program,” said Leslie Fields, Chartiers Valley coordinator of District Initiatives. “We’re constantly looking at evolving STEM education K-12 at Chartiers Valley.”

Five years ago, the High School transformed the Tech Ed Department into what is now the Applied Engineering and Technology Department, featuring an Engineering Academy and Certificate programs. There, students take advanced STEM education classes.

Chartiers Valley implemented a K-12 STEM education program to introduce students to STEM concepts early on. The District’s K-12 STEM/STEAM programs are made possible with support from the Benedum Foundation, Grable Foundation and Chevron.

The other two finalists for the award are high schools in North Miami, FL and Park City, UT.

Photos



Award winning-filmmaker Emmai Alaquiva is interviewed by Damani Brown, Calum Brown and Sheridan McHenry during SLB Radio’s 2014 Crossing Fences Program. Photograph courtesy SLB Radio Productions, Inc.



Paul Bradley is interviewed from left, by Isaac Hall, 16, Antonio Lancaster, 18 and Jassaun Davidson, 15, in Sto-Rox, as part of SLB Radio's 2014 Crossing Fences Program. Photograph courtesy SLB Radio Productions, Inc.



Propel Northside student enjoys the Day of Coding.



Students at Propel Hazelwood are all “agog” with learning.



Preparing for the recent Future Cities Competition at the Carnegie Science Center were these Propel Braddock Hills Elementary students.



Avonworth High School students take part in a videoconference hosted by Cornell University and established by the World Affairs Council. Norton Gusky photo.



A Social Studies class at Ellis is solving real world problems in a room specially designed for use by different disciplines, as part of the Design Process. Norton Gusky photo.



Digital Corps volunteers Hallie Foster and Louis Cappa teach these Boys and Girls Club participants to use robotics kits while WQED cameraman Frank Caloiero captures the moment on film.

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  • WQED is pleased to partner with Highmark to bring you these special reports on "Men & Cancer" and "Women & Cancer." Every year cancer claims the lives of nearly 300,000 men in America. According to the American Cancer Society, getting the facts about cancer is an important step in taking care of your overall health.

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  • WQED is pleased to partner with Highmark to bring you these special reports on "Men & Cancer" and "Women & Cancer." Every year cancer claims the lives of nearly 300,000 men in America. According to the American Cancer Society, getting the facts about cancer is an important step in taking care of your overall health.