Jason Holt teaches students how to build games. As an instructional technology specialist, his game design course is a playful piece in a serious plan to connect students – along with his fellow teachers and administrators – to what technology can truly bring to the classroom. And based on the results he’s seeing, this Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert is well on his way to making a difference.
Jason teaches Game Programming and Design, a junior and senior-level computer science course at Newman International Academy in Arlington, Texas (a Microsoft School). This rigorous course, with prerequisites like C# and Java programming, helps students develop the multidisciplinary skills needed to create video games. Both the course, and the methods Jason uses to teach it, demonstrate his spirit of innovation.
Creating “something amazing”
Jason sees that innovation come alive when his students use the collaboration space in OneNote Class Notebook, along with personal sections for creating the design documents for their game projects.
“The students are able to dynamically add content to their pages and receive feedback from each other and me,” Jason says. “This helps the students keep all of their ideas and inspiration centrally located, so they can focus on creating something amazing. They come back to it again and again as their project develops to refine what they have written.”
In addition to collaborating on OneNote, the students use Microsoft Classroom (now included in Office 365 Education) to keep track of assignments, due dates, project files and game design assets. But bringing a subject to life sometimes takes a village. That’s where Jason has made brilliant use of Skype in the Classroom to connect his students with other classrooms and help them learn how games tell their stories.
By using these tools to foster collaboration and to make learning more organized and engaging, Jason is helping his students to produce some stand-out work, including original games like The Ephemeral Knight and Galaxy Protector. His budding game designers have even created poster art to serve as inspiration for other creators:
Whole school engagement
But Jason’s mission doesn’t end with his students. He also plays a big part in training his colleagues to properly integrate tools like OneNote and Skype into their classrooms.
“I think there is a concept that technology integration is just putting technology in a classroom,” Jason says. “If technology integration isn’t a part of [state or national] standards, if the school or the district isn’t being graded on technology integration, it’s very easy to be passive about technology integration.”
Just like the video games built by his students, Jason’s solution is anything but passive. Just this school year, he rolled out OneNote’s Staff Notebook in one of Newman International Academy’s campuses, which is a catalyst for the roll-out of Staff Notebooks and, eventually, Class Notebooks, on all five campuses. Jason also trained teachers on Skype in the Classroom, Skype for Business as a campus communication tool, and created training videos so teachers could work at their own pace.
“One of my biggest personal learnings in teaching other teachers,” he says, “is that there really need to be three elements: tiered training (so you can work with different types of teachers), self-paced training videos that teachers can play through slowly and methodically and, finally, it’s super important to get your administrators on-board with whatever you are wanting to bring to your school. You need not only the verbal support, but their ’physical‘ support in getting themselves and their teachers trained.”
On to the next frontier
Jason’s next step is to use DonorsChoose.org to help provide his students with an introduction to virtual reality creation – the next frontier when it comes to gaming.
“This project represents an opportunity that some of our students may never have due to their own socio-economic status,” he says. “If that barrier alone can be overcome, the opportunity to learn how to create for a virtual reality platform could be a jumping off point for this group of students. My hope and passion is to inspire these kids in the creation of technology and show them that even they, at a young age, are capable of creating something amazing. This is the time to capture their imagination and set them up for THEIR future.”