"Yes," I answered. "That was the whole point of the meeting."
"Wow. It is just that they seemed really interested in our class."
"Yes, I asked them to come. I don't want to teach a course in video game development without feedback from experts. It is important that what we learn reflects the same process and necessary skills in the gaming industry."
This conversation took place after I had some students sit in on a meeting I held with professionals in the Video Game industry. I am the lead technology teacher at Los Angeles' Foshay Tech Academy—a 150-student school-within-a-school at Foshay Learning Center - and currently co-writing a curriculum to make a video game course available for other high schools to offer that will count in the students' GPA towards college. We reached out to experts to give feedback about the pacing and projects of the course. I had the students begin the meeting with delivering elevator pitches about board games they created and game tested with elementary students. I then invited the students to stay and listen while the meeting moved on to discuss the curriculum mapped out for the rest of the year.
This is not the first time I have brought experts into my classroom or asked them to review my curriculum. I bring professionals in all the time to talk to the students about their careers - we begin with the guests introducing themselves and a time they failed or took a risk. I also hold mentor days for the professionals to come in to discuss their interviewing experience, review resumes and edit student digital portfolios, cover letters and personal statements. I also have my 10th - 12th graders present their final projects to a team of professionals at least once a year. For the seniors that means going to an ad agency and pitching their campaigns to a team of advertising executives. For the sophomores and juniors it often is sending their final websites and programming games to the professionals digitally and they get virtual feedback through online forms and emails.
The purpose behind bringing professionals into my class is threefold:
1. Networking opportunities for the students; My students are largely first generation to go to high school in America and they have big dreams for their careers. This gives them the experience to learn how to communicate with people outside their own tiny network and expands that network with professionals who can help them navigate into various careers through building up their digital portfolios, accepting informational interviews and reaching out to them when opportunities occur. We have had students chosen as game testers, web designers and interns this way.
2. Real world critique that maybe the students will actually hear . Most of the time, I have already given similar points or advice as the mentors, but I think I sound like the teacher from the PEANUTS cartoons to them. These experts add gravitas and truth to what I teach or connects to a student in a new way that did not work for me through a large classroom setting.
3. The experts give me advice about what I need to adjust in order to match real world career expectations. I may no longer an expert in my own classroom, but I have enough sense to bring in the experts to help guide my class in going in the right directions as I get the students prepared for jobs of the future. Technology is constantly changing so we try to stay relevant in the types of projects the students create.
I model what I teach about the importance of networking and peer editing.. As a classroom teacher, I am constantly networking for my class. I tell everyone I meet what I teach and if they show interest I ask for their emails to include them on my mailing list when we have events and opportunities. Most of the people on my list of partners have come from those people who come check out my school through our mentor days and mock interview days. More often then not, those same people start connecting me to their friends and colleagues as well.
The game designers that were part of my meeting all came to me through my networking contacts, I did not meet any of those people on my own. All of them who attended the meeting then conducted an impromptu Q and A with my juniors and asserted that they would come again to hear game pitches, look over resumes, critique game design and answer other questions. I may no longer be the expert in my classroom, but the students still get expert advice.