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These Game Design High School Summer Programs Boost STEM Skills

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These Game Design Summer Programs Help High School Students

Sometimes, video games can be good for high school students.

Playing games on a computer, tablet or smartphone can strengthen a range of cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory, problem-solving and perception, according to several studies reviewed by the American Psychological Association in 2013.

And, gaming might be an excuse for your high school student to get interested in a STEM program. Game development requires a knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math, as well as fine-art skills such as graphic design and 3D animation. And, game design and development is a great way for students to learn cross-over skills, such as team-building.

Gaming can even help save the world. In 2017, Games for Change sponsored a special prize for games submitted to the National STEM Video Game Challenge for games designed “to help players learn, improve their communities, and contribute to making the world a better place.” The video game challenge is an annual event sponsored by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, E-Line Media and the Entertainment Software Association.

How can a high school student make the leap from game player to game creator? One way is through a game design summer camp or STEM summer program for high school students. Some of these programs concentrate on the technicalities of coding and production; others are focused on the creative side, such as 3D animation. Some offer scholarships or financial aid. All are taught on college campuses and give students a chance to experience what it’s like to live in a dorm, although several do have day options. Some are pre-college programs hosted by the schools themselves; others are held on campus but organized by outside organizations.

They range from one-week camps for beginning game developers to six-week courses that might be eligible for college credit.

So don’t dismiss your high school student’s game playing as worthless. With a little boost, there might be way to turn what appears to be a time-waster into something worthwhile. The economic impact of the video game industry on the United States' GDP was $11 billion in 2016, and salaries average over $90,000, according to Forbes magazine.

See if you and your high school student can come to a meeting of the minds on video games. Where to start? Here are 10 summer programs for teens that focus on gaming and are popular with TeenLife members. You can find more at www.TeenLife.com.

Game Design Summer Programs

  1. Emagination Computer Camps hosts two-week sessions for high school students ages 15 to 18 at Boston College and Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Participants work as a team to build a 3D animation game and also connect with guest speakers and get to tour a local video animation studio. Students 14 and under can study game design courses through Emagination’s computer camps.
  2. iD Game Design and Development Academy is a two-week program for students ages 13-18. Courses are held on college campuses throughout the country and are led by industry professionals. Courses include 3D modeling and printing as well as game coding, design and development. Levels are for beginner to advanced. Campuses include Stanford University and UNC-Chapel Hill, among others.
  3. Game Experience: Video Game Development is offered at the University of Washington- Seattle for high school students in grades 10 through 12. Participants learn what it’s like to create a game from start to finish and tour gaming companies and meet with people in the industry. Classes cover concept art, design, programming, project management and gaming business models. The 2 ½-week camp also includes tours and travel throughout the Seattle area.
  4. Cogswell College,a polytechnic school in Sunnyvale, Calif., offers college-credit summer programs for high school students, including introduction to video game development. Students work on project production models and work as teams. Classes are 10 weeks but are available for college credit.
  5. Alexa Cafe, an all-girls STEM camp run by iD Tech, offers game coding courses at camps on campuses throughout the United States. Girls ages 10 to 15 can learn 3D art creation with Autodesk Maya 3D modeling and animation software. The one-week programs run from Sunday nights through Fridays and are offered at college campuses such as Lake Forest near Chicago and Simmons in Boston.
  6. Syracuse University Summer College offers two-week high school summer courses in three sessions in July and August, including animation and game design. Students who sign up for more than one session get a tuition discount. So, students might be able to follow game design with a coding course, creative writing, photography or even fashion design.
  7. Worcester Polytechnic Institute has a one-week summer gaming camp for students going into grades 9 and 10. Participants create a game using a 3D video game engine, including graphics, sound and animation, and work in teams to understand the computer science and art design. Students can live on campus for the week or attend as day students.
  8. Centenary College has one-week coding and game design courses for students entering grades 8 through 12. Camp covers the basics of game design, including history, story progression, character development, events and sequence, game play and game balancing and level progression. Day students are welcome, although the majority of participants spend the week living in dorms on the New Jersey campus.
  9. The National High School Game Academy held at Carnegie Mellon welcomes students in several disciplines – art, music, design and programming – to a six-week college-level course in game design. The program creates teams comprising artists, programmers, a sound designer and a producer. The first two weeks are focused on classroom instruction; the last four on projects.
  10. New York Film Academy has both four-week and one-week video game design camps for ages 14 to 17 at its New York and Los Angeles campuses. Students work with industry-level software and learn the fundamentals of 3D design, narrative, coding, play mechanics and player experience. Housing is available in both Los Angeles and New York. College credit may be available.

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Susan Moeller is a former newspaper editor and reporter who has directed education coverage as well as written about schools and children. She lives on Cape Cod, has three children and is a veteran of the boarding school and college search process.