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Valerie Gordon and Jason DeFrias presentation at Questar

East Greenbush Central School District Teachers Valerie Gordon and Jason DeFrias, with Averill Park Teacher Terry Miller giving a presentation at Questar III BOCES about their summer internship at Vicarious Visions.

Columbia High School is planning to add a new class in Video Game Development in 2020-21 following the work of two teachers at a local video game studio this summer.

Columbia teachers Valerie Gordon and Jason DeFrias completed a seven-week internship at Vicarious Visions, a video game development studio in Albany known for making popular games such as Guitar Hero and Skylanders, along with teachers from Averill Park and Schodack to learn about the video game industry, how video games are created and how that process could be turned into a high school class.

“I think what is exciting about this course for kids is that there will be something for everyone,” Ms. Gordon said. “It will require students to learn and use soft skills but also tap into their science, English, art and computer science skills. As we’ve learned at Vicarious Visions, it takes many disciplines to work together to make a game and students will see this while working in teams to develop their own video games.”

The internship was part of Questar’s Summer STEM Research Institute and funded by the Rensselaer County Industrial Development Agency and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Digital Games Hub.

The teachers gave a presentation to Questar and school district administrators on Wednesday, describing their work from the summer, what they learned and how the innovative practices at Vicarious Visions could be brought back to their own classrooms. They also provided a template for the new Video Game Development class.

“This important endeavor began with simple discussions with local businesses, reviewing both regional and national job analytics, and asking our students what they were interested in and what courses they wish we offered,” said James McHugh, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “This is a collaborative effort facilitated by Questar III BOCES that will lead to a new course where students will develop real word employment skills that are highly applicable to a multitude of careers.”

The new class would be taught cooperatively by both Ms. Gordon and Mr. DeFrias starting in September 2020 and fulfill an elective requirement for art, CTE or possibly even mathematics or English. Students would start by creating a board game and then learn a web-based coding program so they can create different types of video games, including a 2D platform game, an RPG (role-playing game) and a 3D game.

“The work we did this summer will provide students a pathway to learn the foundations of video game development,” said Mr. DeFrias, “many of which include the soft skills required in any line of employment – commitment, patience, perseverance, public speaking, teamwork, effective communication and collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, time management, and the willingness and ability to fail forward, amongst others. And, they will have fun while doing it!”

Ms. Gordon and Mr. DeFrias will continue their collaboration with the Averill Park and Schodack teachers this year, and then participate in a second internship at Vicarious Visions in Summer 2020 before launching the new course.