Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

High school showcases computer gaming

A Denver high school is celebrating the first partnership between the University of Denver’scomputer game design program and a public school.

DU Professors Debra Austin, Rafael Fajardo and Scott Leutenegger trained their first group of high school teachers in a new computer game design curriculum, helping them incorporate elements of art, computer programming, game design and critical thinking. 

Martin Luther King Jr. Early College (MLK), a high school on Denver’s north side, sent math teacher Travis Glatthar to the camp, and he was back in his classroom by fall offering a gaming class as an elective. Some 35 students worked with Glatthar and art teacher Sam Spitzer to shape a curriculum on the fly. 

At a technology showcase in December, students presented their completed games and invited fellow students to play.

“It’s been interesting as a teacher. I am teaching in a way I never have before,” Glatthar says. “With a project-based course like this, students have to learn how to stick with things and not get bogged down when things get difficult.”

Those skills, he says, translate beyond the classroom and even beyond the subject matter. To succeed in anything, students need to know how to complete a task when the going gets tough.

At MLK’s tech showcase, the gaming course was included with other new courses, such as programs teaching digital media, engineering, electronic geographic information systems and hands-on computer refurbishment.

Leutenegger, who champions gaming as a way to stimulate interest in the sciences, says computer games have gotten a bad rap. The courses he teaches focus on exciting young people about art and math. It also encourages the next generation of game designers to think beyond violent games and instead construct what he calls “humane games” that raise awareness about issues or focus on elements of play beyond shooting and hitting.

Eduardo Parra, a 15-year-old 10th grader at MLK and a practicing vegan, used the game he created to raise awareness about vegan living.

The game, “The Adventures of Super TofuMan,” pits a tofu-slinging avenger against meat-packers as the hero races to free doomed animals from a slaughterhouse.

“I’d never done anything with computers before, but it’s been a lot of fun,” he says. “It was difficult at first, but then we sort of got the hang of it.”

For Glatthar, the course was rewarding. He’s already signing students up for next semester. And he plans to bring his best students back to learn advanced techniques and to share what they’ve learned.

“They’ve been teaching me about teaching, in a way,” he says. “We’re learning as we go, sometimes figuring out what we’re going to teach just one day before class.”

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