CIRCL perspectives offer a window into the different worlds of various stakeholders in the cyberlearning community — what drives their work, what they need to be successful, and what they think the community should be doing. Share your perspective.
Arrash Jaffarzadeh is Director of Educational Technology at Monticello Academy. For over 12 years, Arrash has worked in the educational leadership field both as an educator and as an educational technology director.
How did you get started in cyberlearning?
I’ll never forget the first time I set foot in the classroom that became my home away from home over 12 years ago. I was hired as the computer technology teacher for an elementary and middle school. I remember walking into the classroom and finding a completely empty room and having this nervous feeling of what I would teach the students on their first day of school, which was only a few weeks away. The first step was to discover what the standards were for computer technology. I was surprised to find that such standards were very few and most schools in the area didn’t have a developed computer technology program. This enabled me to develop my own program from the ground up.
What is unique about your work?
I take a very holistic approach to cyberlearning. I developed a curriculum that was broken up into four branches: computer fundamentals, graphic design, multimedia, and computer science. Each of these categories were important in their own way. The fundamentals section enables students to have an understanding of computer hardware and software, good ergonomics, healthy habits, and basics in using productivity software. The graphic design section of the curriculum allows students to learn how to use digital cameras, composition, color, and programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator to express themselves through digital art. The third section, multimedia, teaches students how to create animations, videos, visual effects, and web design. The final component, and the most important to me, is computer science. Here students learn about programming logic and programming languages. Learning to program requires students to know how to break down problems and learn the language of the technology that we have come to rely on in almost every facet of our lives.
By the time the students reach their final year with me in middle school, they work together in groups of 5-6 of their peers to develop a game from start to finish. As a team, they collaborate to create a story for their game, the game play, and design. The students then divide up the tasks required to develop the game by having team members work as programmers, graphic designers, sound designers, animators, and team leaders. At the start of each class session, they meet in their groups, collaborate and plan their tasks, work on their individual or group components, and come together again until their entire game is complete. The result is polished game that the students publish on the web for others to play. In the past, students have developed Role Playing Games (RPG) where the protagonist traverses the land on a quest, as well as platformer games where the hero can jump from platform to platform, leveling up as he or she goes.
In addition to this, I have found that programming is a useful tool in teaching students about concepts in math and science through game development. Students discover how a simple platforming game requires an understanding of math and physics. To make your character run, you must be able to move them on the coordinate plane using simple mathematics. To make the character accelerate and decelerate, you have to have an understanding of the Law of Motion and how it relates to more advanced math concepts. In order to make their character jump, they have to learn how to create real-world laws in the game-world and learning their relationship to mathematics. I have found that there is great potential linking computer technology to other core subjects.
What would you like policy makers (e.g., Congress) to know about your work?
I see the current climate of cyberlearning in education as being an “outside in” approach. We have many ideas, thoughts, studies, and programs available for schools; however, most of these are isolated islands of learning that get tacked on or added on top of curriculum. We need more focus on a model that starts from the inside of curriculum and works outward. A holistic approach to cyberlearning that can be connected to all core subjects and also help the students develop life-long, 21st century skills.
How would you like to contribute back to the cyberlearning community?
I see great potential in the incorporation of graphic design, multimedia, and computer science that is heavily connected to other academic subjects in K-12 education such has history, math, science, English, etc. My goal is to create a system that schools can use and help change the learning landscape across the country. My dream is for the youth to have a positive experience in school that will help prepare them for a successful life in the 21st century.