Designing video games, an occupation that seems perfectly aligned for California’s 21st century economy, is among the new high school courses a state panel is proposing as part of a revision of state standards that guide schools’ efforts to prepare students for future careers.

A growing market: video games for sale.

A growing market: video games for sale. (Click to enlarge.)

The proposal is a new element in the updated version of California’s “Career Technical Education Model Curriculum Standards” presented to the State Board of Education in Sacramento yesterday.  The public has until September 19 to offer comments before the final version is adopted by the Board.

Game design programs are offered at several California colleges  – but the proposal could provide an impetus for similar courses at the high school level, said Patrick Ainsworth, assistant superintendent of career and college transition in the state Department of Education.

The curriculum standards are included in a massive draft document – 630 pages in all – outlining  career “pathways” in 15 sectors of the economy. It revises standards adopted by the State Board for the first time in 2005 to take into account changes in the workplace since then. It is the end product of 18 months of work based on input from over 300 business and industry representatives, as well as educators.

The document responds to the increased pressures on high schools at a state and national level to make sure that students emerge from high school “career and college ready” – a concept that is open to multiple definitions. In extraordinary detail, it also matches the skills the students would learn in career technical courses with specific Common Core state standards in math and English that California and most other states have adopted. California would be the first state to spell out the connections, according to Ainsworth.

A skeptical Board president Michael Kirst said he found some of the proposed business pathways “unrealistic” and akin to “a junior MBA.” He wondered how financially strapped high schools would be able to offer the very detailed and comprehensive programs outlined in the document. “It is not about the desirability, it is about the  feasibility,” he said.

Ainsworth responded that the pathways are becoming a “core aspect of high school reform.” “We recognize the fiscal realities out there, but we weren’t willing to compromise in terms of rigor,” he said. In fact, the centerpiece of legislation proposed by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, now awaiting Governor Brown’s signature (SB 1458), proposes incorporating how well a school prepares its students for college and career into the Academic Performance Index, the state’s main measure of a school’s academic success.

Ainsworth later told EdSource Today that some 10,000 career technical courses are offered in California high schools. Several pathways in the model standards were  revised to take into account changes in other occupations since the first standards. The Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security helped in the redesign of the “Public Safety” pathway. Mental health experts helped integrate the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder into the “Mental and Behavioral Health” pathway. And environmental issues receive greater prominence in the “Energy and Utilities” pathway, now retitled “Energy, Environment and Utilities.”

Demanding courses

But the “Game Design and Integration Pathway” is completely new, designed with input from industry leaders such as videogame maker Zynga, and is meant to to “prepare students for careers within the game design industry and in related technical fields.”

To get there, however, students would have to traverse a demanding set of skills and assignments.

Under the suggested pathway, students would learn about “current trends and the historical significance” of electronic and non-electronic games. They would move on to programming concepts, studying the use of game art and multimedia, including music, sound, art, and animation, and end up with an understanding of “fundamentals of business and marketing,” including concepts such as entrepreneurship, global marketing, and localization.

Mary Clarke-Miller has been teaching a course titled “Video Game Design” at Encinal High School in Alameda for the past five years as part of its MAD (Media Animation and Design) Studio Academy.

She can accommodate 25 students in her class. The demand often exceeds the available slots – until students “discover you are not just playing video games every day.” Students learn about the history of videogames, along with doing a good deal of writing and programming, using programs  like Scratch, Google SketchUp, and GameSalad.

Clarke-Miller, a 10-year veteran in the field, worked for the famed animator Don Bluth in her native Ireland on a number of 21st Century Fox animation projects, which also involved some games. She also teaches similar courses at Berkeley City College, a community college. But, she says, high school courses like hers are unusual – so unusual that in a state with an association for almost every teaching specialty nothing exists for game instructors like herself. “I feel very lonely,” she said.

That could change if schools take their cue from the model career standards.  As Ainsworth explained, “We recognize that schools are facing a crisis, and that they may not be able to offer all these courses.” The standards, he said, are simply models for schools to adopt or adapt as they see fit. But, he said, “it is better to have standards that show an ideal pathway.”  Even offering one course, he said, out of the many suggested in any particular pathway would be better than none.

Hearings on the proposed CTE Model Curriculum Standards will be held next week in Los Angeles and Sacramento. Go to the California Department of Education website for more details. 

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  1. el 10 years ago10 years ago

    Another option would be to offer courses where students make short animated movies. The tools are very affordable these days, and there’s the chance to be very cross-disciplinary between writing a script, designing the characters, storyboarding, and then creating the movie.

    There are kid-accessible options to do stop-motion animation captured with a digital camera as well.