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Game time is different in North Hills classroom |

Game time is different in North Hills classroom

| Wednesday, September 30, 2015 9:16 p.m
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Students in Reuben Clark's Introduction and Evolution of Games class, including Landin O'Neil, 17, a senior, left, and Tyler Vescio, 17, use their laptops to design games during the class at North Hills Senior High, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Students in Reuben Clark's Introduction and Evolution of Games class, including Shannon Heinl, 18, a senior, and Brandon Staab, 15, a sophomore, demonstrate the playing of the game they designed called ' The Royal Game of Ur' during the class at North Hills Senior High, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Students in Reuben Clark's Introduction and Evolution of Games class, including Shannon Heinl, 18, a senior, move game pieces along the track of their game, ' The Royal Game of Ur.' during the class at North Hills Senior High, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
John Benner, 16, a junior and student in the Introduction and Evolution of Games class, rolls the dice as he works with teacher Reuben Clark during the class at North Hills Senior High, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Students John Benner and Dan Radziminski designed a board game, featuring a board, pieces, and die, in the Introduction and Evolution of Games class taught by Reuben Clark at North Hills Senior High, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015.

Shannon Heinl has been interested in games for awhile, but this was the first year she’s been able to learn how to build one in school.

The North Hills High School senior is taking “Evolution of Games,” part of a curriculum the district implemented this year to teach students about the history of gaming and how to design their own games using 3D imaging and printing and laser engraving.

Heinl hopes to be a video game animator. She’s already taken a 3D animation class at North Hills and hopes the gaming curriculum will prepare her for her career, and attract more girls to gaming and technology courses.

“It’s kind of expanded, so more girls are interested in this, too,” Heinl said.

Nearly 200 students are enrolled in the classes at North Hills; there are five sections on the Evolution of Games, two on mobile game design and one on game design.

The school hopes to expand its offerings each year to eventually include game production and marketing, game maker programming and screenwriting. There are 11 total courses in the program.

The courses have been a great gateway to students who normally wouldn’t consider technical education classes, said Reuben Clark, a technical education teacher at North Hills who teaches the gaming classes.

Zulama LLC, based in the North Side, developed the curriculum that debuted in 2010 and now is in more than 100 districts nationwide. The classes mostly are in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio, but several school districts along the East Coast also adopted it, said CEO Nikki Navta.

North Hills spent $70,000 to renovate a classroom for the courses, including furniture and new computers. The price of Zulama’s curriculum varies, depending on the size of the district.

Districts are offered an introductory price and then pay an annual fee. Prices can range from $2,500 for an introductory year to up to $10,000 for the yearly subscription, Navta said.

“We really feel like education needs to move in a project-based, interest-driven direction,” Navta said. Zulama also is implementing a similar curriculum for middle-schoolers.

“Statistics show that girls, especially, start losing interest in science and technology in sixth and seventh grade,” she said. “We hope that offering something to them in middle school will get them hooked a little bit earlier.”

The courses are in several local districts including Pittsburgh Public Schools, West Allegheny, Ligonier Valley, South Butler and Elizabeth Forward. They’re designed to teach collaboration, critical thinking and innovation.

“We enjoy it, because they’re gaining so many skills through this process,” Clark said. “That’s the whole point of this.”

In Evolution of Games, students learn about ancient games and create their own versions.

Students started with Ur, an ancient Babylonian game, and will move on to Senet, a game from Egypt, for example.

“It’s really interesting to learn about the cultural things behind gaming,” said Anthony Black, 17, a senior from Ross. Black wants to be a web designer and already has done some web freelance projects.

“There’s so many resources here, that we can’t wait to use it,” Black said of the offerings at North Hills.

The course also helps students apply engineering principles in new ways. Tyler Rice, 17, a senior from Ross, said the course helped him understand how today’s modern games, whether on boards or computers, are just remakes of ancient concepts.

“Coming into the class, I expected it to be old, ancient games, but it’s like many of the games we play today,” he said.

The course allows students to work in teams. Rice and Black are partners and recently remade Ur as a boxing-themed board game. They created game pieces using a 3D printer and designed a board using advanced design software.

“Every project, we want to one-up our previous one,” Black said. “You learn a lot each time.”

Katelyn Ferral is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5627 or

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