Nate Porter (Schodack CSD) & Valerie Gordon (East Greenbush CSD) work on a project at Vicarious Visions as part of the 2019 Summer STEM Research Institute

This year, Questar III is partnering with Vicarious Visions to offer six teachers from three component school districts the opportunity to learn about the video game design industry and develop courses that align with industry skill sets.

Often when one thinks about video game design, the disciplines that come to mind include programming and coding, but there is much more beyond the surface in this growing industry. Many video games today are similar to movies with detailed storylines and imaginative landscapes– which involves English Language Arts and creative writing. Someone needs to create authentic characters and 3D worlds that are becoming more immersive by the day – this is art and 3D modeling. How do objects and people in the game’s universe interact with one another? Physics. All these fields combine to help create the latest games for the latest consoles.

Questar III’s Summer STEM Research Institute began in 2014 as an opportunity for high school science teachers to work under the mentorship of professional researchers and scientists, participating in research activities to better understand how their curriculum is applied in real-world settings. In 2017, the program expanded to teachers from all STEM disciplines.

This partnership with Vicarious Visions marks the program’s move beyond STEM fields – including English Language Arts and Fine Arts teachers in the summer program.

The partnership began in the fall of 2018 with a conversation between East Greenbush CSD Superintendent Jeff Simons, Questar III Director of Strategic Initiatives Jim Church and Steve Derrick, Vicarious Visions’ Director of Organizational Development, through Questar III’s Business & Education Partnership service. The group was seeking opportunities to engage teachers in learning about this growing industry with an expanding foothold on our region. When Vicarious Visions offered to host teachers this summer, the idea took off.

“I observed professionals with different educational backgrounds and skill sets collaborating, creating and communicating effectively with each other using technology in a work environment which fostered teamwork. I thought to myself, this is exactly what our students should be doing in the classroom. The gaming industry is growing at a rapid pace. The job market is wide open in our area. Why not involve teachers in this unique workplace as a means to develop courses to attract students into this exciting field,” said Simons.

“Due to the technical nature of this industry, you need to spend more than a couple days to fully grasp the various parts that make up the whole. As Questar III’s STEM Research Institute offers its fellows an extensive opportunity to immerse themselves in their work experiences, it was logical to include this partnership under that larger umbrella,” said Church.

Seeking to expand the opportunity, East Greenbush CSD offered to partner with Averill Park CSD and Schodack CSD to select two teachers each to be part of this first cohort working with the game design studio in their offices in Colonie. The ultimate goal is for the teachers to develop a curriculum for a game design class to be taught in their districts. Averill Park CSD is offering the course beginning in September 2019, with East Greenbush and Schodack slated to offer the program beginning with the 2020-21 school year. Averill Park already has nearly 30 students enrolled in the program.

“We are excited to offer a video game design course in the fall. This is an example of the way that the Averill Park Central School District is implementing our mission statement of meeting the needs of and creating opportunities for every student every day,” said Averill Park CSD Superintendent Dr. Jim Franchini.

“We’re very excited to have two of our outstanding educators working through Questar III’s Summer STEM Research Institute program to gain valuable experience in a growing industry and possibly create an introduction to gaming course for our students,” said Schodack CSD Superintendent Jason Chevrier. “Having an English and a Physics teacher taking a cross-disciplinary approach with a company like Vicarious Visions is an awesome opportunity and we thank them and Questar for making it happen.”

As teachers receive a stipend for their seven weeks of work in the STEM Research Institute, The Rensselaer County Industrial Development Agency and Digital Gaming Hub/Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have each committed funding to support teacher stipends for their effort.

And based on the teachers’ initial insights, this investment will help students better develop the skills and understand how what they’re learning in class applies in the real world.

Maple Hill High School Science teacher Nate Porter, who was in the first cohort of teachers in STEM Research Program, was excited to revisit the program in a new light.

“This being my second time in the program, I was excited about the Vicarious Visions connection because previously I worked in a research field. While in the program the first time I found myself very interested in the business side of the STEM program. With the game industry centered around two of my interests (physics and computer science) I couldn’t pass the opportunity.”

Valerie Gordon is an Art teacher at Columbia High School and says when she was asked to participate, she was intrigued – in part because one of her friends from college received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and has worked for Vicarious Visions since then.

“I’ve always been interested in how fine art can be applied to today’s world of high-tech like animation, programming, graphic design, etc. As a strong advocate for the arts in school, this just adds a ton more fuel to my fire and plenty of ammunition when people ask, ‘Who needs art?’”

The six teachers working with Vicarious Visions will present on their work at this upcoming November’s STEAM teacher workshop, STEAMing Towards Success (co-hosted by the Questar III BOCES, Capital Region BOCES and WSWHE BOCES), presenting lessons they developed to share with teachers across the Capital Region.

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