NHSGA – Post One Instruction

ETC second year Angie Mendenhall shares her experience of being a Teaching Assistant for the National High School Gaming Academy, part of CMU’s Pre-College program which happens at the ETC every summer.

On a cool morning in Pittsburgh, sixteen CMU students, both MET and Undergraduate, make their way to the Entertainment Technology Center. They have been tasked with developing a curriculum to prepare high school students on what a game-focused education would feel like. This program is part of Carnegie Mellon’s Pre-College program, where high school students live on campus, studying and working as if they were college students. Eighty-six of these Pre-College students are part of the National High School Game Academy, where they will be instructed by these sixteen TAs. The TAs have three weeks before the students arrive. Three weeks to build slide decks and reference materials that will prepare the students to build games of their own.

The disciplines are split into programming, 2D art, 3D art, sound, production, and game design. With only a few exceptions, the TA team develops and instructs the entire curriculum. 

The first thing the TAs do is get together to decide what sort of topics the students would need so that they can successfully complete their upcoming assignments. Guided by ETC faculty Mo Mahler and Ricardo Washington, the artists decided on classes such as Introduction to Drawing, Box Modeling, and Unity Pipeline. Programming TAs structured their curriculum to teach the Unity3D game engine from the ground up, including  classes such as 2D Movement and Animation, Particle Effects, and State Machines.

Once the list of classes was decided, the TAs break up the schedule into their areas of expertise as primary instructors, where they create the lecture material for the class. They compile resources, practice software demonstrations, and create slide decks leading up to the first day of class. The TAs spend these weeks making sure everything is in order for when the students arrive.

On Sunday, July 2nd, the TAs and program director Chris Klug arrive at the ETC. Today, the students will be arriving for their first day of the NSHGA, orientation day. Students meet each other and their TA mentors, get their portraits taken, and have their laptops checked for the proper software. As the day winds down, the students get a tour of the ETC building and are sent home for their first night in the dorms. 

The next day, classes start in full. All students have introductory classes to programming, art, sound design, and production, ending with a lecture about Chris’s experience in the games industry. The next two weeks are as hectic as the first day, with the staff of the program working hard, even through their lunch hour, to assist the students with whatever questions they have on their homework or the software. While an instructor isn’t teaching or assisting a class, they spend their time in the TA room grading homework submissions that students have turned in. The homework is to reinforce what the students have been taught during the class, as well as a tool to learn more about the students before they are placed in teams for their group projects. Soon, the Lightning Round will begin, a one week sprint where they remake a classic arcade game from scratch. 

These past two weeks have been a rush for the ETC students at the NHSGA, learning what being a games educator is like and getting to pass their skills on to the upcoming generation of game designers. Next week, the students will begin work in full on their arcade game remakes, and we are excited to see where their creativity takes them.

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