This piece is based on our recent conversation with Nikki Navta, President and CEO of Zulama. Previously, Nikki spent over 20 years working at Navta Associates where she developed the company’s desktop publishing business, servicing textbook companies like McGraw Hill, Pearson, and others. In the early 2000’s (at the same time she saw her two sons immersed in the world of Minecraft), Nikki walked into Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (a program created by Randy Pausch and Don Marinelli). Through the partnerships she created with several of the Center’s professors, Nikki created Zulama, which helps students develop critical programming, art, and design skills so they can thrive in the new global digital workspace. Nikki resides in Pittsburgh, PA.
IS COMPUTER SCIENCE THE NEXT LITERACY?
Previously, we’ve written about Republic Schools’ big bet on computer science – it’s a core subject starting in the 5th grade, AP Computer Science is taught in the 9th and 10th grades, and students are offered college-level programming courses as juniors and seniors.
In addition, several states have recently adopted their own sets of computer science standards. In fact, in the fall of 2017, Virginia became the first state to require that such courses be offered to its students.
Whether you’re at a school that wants to better prepare its students for the future or in a state that’s starting to require computer science, it’s clear that now’s the time to find a curriculum that’s going to excite your students about programming!
If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for your computer science programming needs, look no further. Zulama is already used by over 15,000 students nationwide and the company has trained over 500 teachers on how to deliver its courses.
Zulama uses engaging game-design projects to teach students the same programming languages that professional use in high-tech workplaces across the country. Better yet, its courses are based on the same curriculum used at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, albeit modified for middle-school and high-school students. By the way, this is the same Carnegie program that was co-founded by Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture.
Zulama believes it can do a better job of getting students excited about programming because its courses are based on the principles of game design. In other words, students learn computer science while having fun. Zulama also believes game design can be a metaphor for problem-solving – the skills kids are learning (collaboration, design-thinking, communication, and problem-solving) are the ones that matter.
WHAT COURSES ARE OFFERED?
Zulama provides a sequence of courses (for students in middle or high-school) that starts with a foundations class; allows students to progress through a game-design, 3D modelling, or design track; and finish with a real-world production course.
Each course contains interactive class discussions, online (and offline) activities, hands-on project-based learning, WebQuests, formative and authentic assessment, and a rich multimedia experience. Best of all, no textbooks are required.
Each green box in the diagram represents a 1-semester long course. The Evolution of Games course serves as a foundation that launches students into a number of different skill tracks. The Studio Courses are modelled on the Carnegie ETC capstone project (which includes topics like identifying a target market, deciding what platform(s) to build on, and how to put together a production team). As discussed below, Zulama also offers short-form courses that teach small fragments of the curriculum covered in these classes.
You can explore each of the courses on the Zulama website in more depth. Each class page allows you to download the course syllabus, view the course standards, and see examples of student work.
The video below provides student perspectives on the Evolution of Games course, the foundational class that serves as a prerequisite to the rest of Zulama’s offering:
WHAT LANGUAGES DO STUDENTS LEARN?
Zulama was created to help students develop the skills and learn the languages they’ll need to be successful in careers of the future.
At the completion of these courses, students are able to earn certifications on both platforms. In fact, most of the courses Zulama offers lead to an industry-accepted certification.
DOES THIS CURRICULUM REQUIRE TEACHERS TO BE COMPUTER SCIENCE EXPERTS?
While Zulama believes that teachers serve a critical role in facilitating its courses, none of them require that a teacher have prior computer science knowledge. This means any ambitious teacher in your school can help get your budding computer science program off the ground.
Typically, the first time an instructor teaches a Zulama course, they learn the content and navigate the materials alongside the students. And of course, teachers are provided with answer keys to all of a course’s programming exercises. Unsurprisingly, students also do an excellent job of facilitating the course and helping their peers with exactly what they need.
But for teachers who’d like a little more support, Zulama offers a wide range of options. It provides self-paced online trainings, webinar-style sessions to address specific needs, and in-person training sessions.
WHAT ARE SOME OTHER WAYS SCHOOLS CAN USE THIS CURRICULUM?
In response to teachers’ need for flexibility, Zulama decided to offer its curriculum through both long-form and short-form courses.
As mentioned above, its long-form courses are each 1-semester long and typically include 80-120 hours of classroom instruction. Its short-form courses, however, can be used in many different ways. These programs can be inserted into the normal curriculum of a middle or high-school classroom, used in conjunction with after-school clubs, or form the basis of a summer-school program.
Finally, Zulama offers its courses to schools in a way that allows them to simply buy what the need (and will use). Most of the schools Zulama works with typically begin their programs with 30-100 students, and the cost of the curriculum (including teacher training) is usually less than $5,000 in the 1st year.
Zulama is also a big believer in encouraging usage. So the more students that use its offering, the cheaper it becomes on a per-student basis. And where else can you offer students access to the same world-class curriculum being offered at Carnegie Mellon for such a cheap price?