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It’s Magic: San Tan Foothills' Gaming Class Tricks Students

It’s Magic: San Tan Foothills' Gaming Class Tricks Students

| by Andrew Luberda | Posted in STV Schools

It might not be appropriate to let the cat out of the bag, but the History and Evolution of Gaming class at San Tan Foothills is tricking students by teaching geometry, science and history under the disguise that they are learning how to conceptualize and develop video games.

It’s a fact the class’ teacher does not deny. As a matter of fact, unlike real magicians, Daniel Sisto attempts to tell his students how the trick works.

“I tell the students I’m tricking them,” Sisto said. “Kids need a magic trick.”

For example, even though students don’t realize it, flipping a water bottle and attempting to have it land right-side-up finds them discussing geometry.

In addition to academic benefits, the class provides other social benefits, including the elimination of social anxieties that some students experience. For others, the class is the only reason to stay in a traditional high school setting.

“It’s like the sugar with the medicine; It helps it go down,” said Sisto.

According to Sisto and San Tan Foothills’ Principal Dr. Tim Richard, many, but not all, of the students likely wouldn’t remain in school if not for the class, which numbers nearly 75.

“At the end of the day, some of these students wouldn’t make it in high school without a drive or push this class provides,” said Sisto.

Added Dr. Richard, “This program has been implanted successfully at other schools around the country,” he said. “It really targets those students that might not be otherwise motivated to attend a traditional public school. It gives at-risk kids a chance to reinvigorate their love for education.”

It’s working.

During a recent visit to the school to observe, students ranging from freshman to senior were interacting and working together to develop a board game, the first part of class before students choose between modeling and coding in the second quarter.

San Tan Foothills offers a video game class, where students conceputalize and develop a video game. The first stage includes creating a board game. 

“I joined the class so next semester I can start learning coding and become more advanced,” said freshman Grayson Shockley.

Sisto uses Zulama, a computer-generated imagery (CGI) game design curriculum, which was designed by educators at the world-renowned Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. It gives teenagers experience with problem solving and thinking creatively – skills they need to earn jobs in a digital world.

“I see some of these students who are going to go to UCLA or some awesome California tech school,” he said. “But they don’t know what to go into.”

Architecture, computer gaming, and creating commercials are just a few potential career fields for students who participate in this class.

After students successfully develop a board game, they will begin programming their concept next quarter. 

Sisto, who acknowledged his own social anxieties while in high school, finds tremendous joy in witnessing his students overcome their own anxieties and interacting socially. His passion for teaching the class stems from his personal experiences as a teenager. Students are known to stay after school – as late as 5:30 p.m.– playing, creating and developing video games.

“They stay after school and make their friends they are going to have for high school,” Sisto said. “We have kids that you would never expect to be hanging out together and they are. I think that’s awesome.”

Senior Randy Toner said he enrolled in the class because he likes video gaming and creating, playing video games. Also, he says, because, “It’s basically a free class.”

When asked if CGI is something he would study in college, Toner replied, “No.”

Yet he later admitted taking the class could lead to financial benefits.

“The class teaches us how to create games,” Toner said. “So maybe, in the future, if I can create my own game I can make money off it to help myself out.”

Looks like Mr. Sisto and Dr. Richard tricked another student.

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