US Forum Educators Make STEM Engaging – Part 1 of 2

West Allegheny High School teacher and students set the national high bar for innovative learning through STEM in Imperial, PA.

West Allegheny High School Students Build Games for Preschoolers
West Allegheny High School Students Build Games for Preschoolers

Annually, Microsoft hosts America’s innovative educators at its Microsoft Partners in Learning US Forum. The US Forum is an opportunity for educators to showcase and exchange their best practices in teaching and learning. This competition and collaboration of educators provides a celebration of teachers and teaching. The US Forum winners will have the opportunity to represent the United States at Global Forum in Greece later this year.

Allow me to introduce the world to Pamela Volakis.

Pamela Volakis is from West Allegheny High School in Imperial, PA. Imperial is just outside of Pittsburgh in the foothills of the Allegheny. After observing a decline in students enrolling in computer science courses, Volakis decided to change the context of her computer science course. Today, her students find their learning journey and learning outcomes are more meaningful through game development.

Shad, Jerry, and Courtney (left-to-right) work together on their project

One of the student products is to a produce a video game using Microsoft XNA Framework and Visual Studio developer tools. Volakis partnered with preschool and life skills teachers to introduce her high school students to their younger counterparts. This is a tremendous jumpstart on understanding markets, demographics, and consumer preferences.

The students had to developed games for preschoolers. The games had to be engaging, interactive, and valid for the preschoolers’ learning goals. The end product was not predetermined. Students had to collaborate and think through all of the issues that needed to be addressed. Solving these problems allowed the students to contextualize their computer science experience. In the end, they learned more than just writing code. These are precisely the same experiences that modern programmers need to be successful.

I am looking forward to seeing and celebrating Pamela Volakis and her students at this year’s Microsoft Partners in Learning US Forum, July 31, 2012.