By JOANNA SANCHEZ
MIAMI (FIU)— Most kids in high school are counting down the seconds until class is over, but not so for the students in Miami Northwestern Senior High School’s video and simulation game design program.
“The majority of my kids are excelling,” said Kathleen Lyden, the computer programming teacher for Miami Northwestern. “There aren’t any kid’s heads down or fighting because everything is positive and user-friendly.”
Miami Northwestern is among the few schools in Miami-Dade that offer game simulation classes.
The program has three levels: In the first year students take game simulation foundation, in the second year they learn game design, and in the third year, game programming.
At the end of the sequence, students receive a programming certification. They also may become certified in Flash Video, a commonly used way to present video on the World Wide Web.
Next year for the first time, third-year students will be able to create games on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 gaming platform.
While some teachers find video games a bar to learning, the booming video game industry offers job opportunities galore.
Entry-level programmers with up to three years of experience earn average salaries of about $66,000 annually, according to a 2012 survey by Game Developer magazine. Entry-level artists and animators earn about $50,000 on average.
Lyden used to teach conventional computer programming languages like Java or Visual Basic, but students’ attention strayed because they had to learn basic concepts and syntax before seeing results.
“The numbers have quadrupled since we went from programming to game simulation two years ago,” said Lyden. “You need to trick them into learning by making it fun and hooking them in and then they start to learn without even realizing it.”
Dedric Dames, a student in Lyden’s first year class, wants to be a game designer and won a contest this year for creating the best banner for the school’s website.
The classes that benefit aspiring game designers can apply to a variety of fields, said Bradley Fair, another student in the program. “I’ve learned that Flash has a lot of uses like animation,” said Fair. “I want to do advertising and that could help with doing TV commercials.”
Lyden’s students participated in a computer game and simulation competition sponsored by Future Business Leaders of America in which students create an educational game.
Wally Carias, then a student in the program’s second year, won honors for his game, Ghost Hunter, in which students solve math problems. Two recent program graduates, Everette Slocum and Alvin Woodside, created Halcyon, available on the
Android app store, that plays soothing sounds to help people relax or sleep.
While some parents may be worried about their children choosing to be in the game simulation program, Miami Northwestern’s parents aren’t.
“No, our parents are happy their children are bringing home trophies,” Lyden said.
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