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A Lot of Blood + a Portal = STEM Brilliance


Who better than a trio of West Middle School seventh-graders to come up with The Cell Apocalypse, a video game that shows how the smallest units of life function in the human body?

“I learned stuff about blood I never knew before. I never knew the human body produces that much blood,” said Jackson Zoscsak who helped create the video game with Spencer Steen and Zach Anderson.

The Cell Apocalypse features disease-fighting cells

The game’s heroic, infection-fighting white blood cell travels to the heart, where a virus is threatening to wreak havoc. The cell kills the virus and a portal appears. Once through the opening, a scientist awaits inside a laboratory to share facts on cell functions.

While the building blocks of life is the theme of The Cell Apocalypse, students, in groups of two or three, used the building blocks of computer code to create video games in a unit merging the school’s art and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, programs.

Students chose from a list of topics on which to base games after they learned to code through Hour of Code. They used the program Scratch to create their games.

Topics provided by teachers spanned the seventh-grade curriculum, covering science, math and social studies. “It’s content that they’ve learned in class,” said art teacher Janine Campbell. “They had to create a game with that content in mind.”

As a result, students brought to digital life games on climate change, cultural diffusion, bus safety, hieroglyphics, math inequalities and chemical elements.

Seventh-grader Ellie Dunn, in stripes, checks out a video game

Building Code, Building Knowledge

“We feel very strongly that learning should happen in cross-curricular ways,” said Campbell, who challenged students to imagine their job was to create the next big educational game. “In order for the learning to really stick with students, they have to see the application.”

Visual arts & design and STEM industries are deeply interconnected, she said. “This offers a way for students to see those connections and then challenges them to draw connections from other class content into these fields,” she said.

Another goal is to get students thinking about future opportunities. “There is a huge industry for educational gaming,” Campbell said.

STEM teacher Jamie Dennett introduces students to many fields involving technology. “This is a big area. Programming is something that in the future will definitely be a career opportunity.

Seventh-grader John McNames said gaming as a career option is exciting.

“I really had a good experience with this. I want to do this when I’m older,” said John, who helped create a game based on climate change with seventh-grader Serenity Metzger. The game requires players to dodge ice spears falling from the atmosphere. The goal is to live for 60 seconds without getting hit, before entering a room to save a penguin family. At the end of the game, information pops up about global warming.

“I like building the code and knowing I made it and being able to be proud of it,” he said.

CONNECT

Five Careers Where Coding Will Help You Get Ahead

Try a few of the video games!

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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