Two Kentwood High School student’s computer science projects landed national attention when Microsoft selected them centerpieces at its Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston.
Zachary Nawar, 18 and Evan Brossard, 17, and their teacher, Shannon Henderson, were invited to participate in the July event, which works as a networking platform for Microsoft’s global business partners and sees more than 14,000 attendees.
Nawar and Brossard’s game took center stage at the public sector display, which showcases the software giant’s contributions to nonprofits, education and other public sector entities. The game, Defend Your City, was developed using Microsoft’s XNA development tools that the company provided to Kentwood’s computer science program.
Defend Your City plays similar to missile command of the 1980s. Players cooperate to defend three cities from falling meteors, with modernized graphics and upgrades available for destroying certain asteroids. It got on Microsoft’s radar after winning the Best in Show award at Kent School District’s VisFest.
Originally, game design wasn’t even in Nawar’s future, and he had considered joining the Marine Corps out of high school.
“Every kid wants to grow up to make video games,” said the 18-year-old, “and this is just some closet fantasy that I had.” Now Nawar will be attending the Digipen Institute of Technology in Redmond to focus exclusively on game design.
He’s looking forward to attending the small, private institution.“I’m looking forward to meeting people who are like me, who like video games and like creating them, who have a passion for them and motivation and enthusiasm,” Nawar said.
He got his start in programming by working on custom scenario maps for the strategy game, Warcraft 3, by Blizzard software.
He moved from programing to coding, and says that the best way to learn is to simply jump in and see what you can do.
“When someone asks me to teach them how to program, I say, ‘No, I can’t teach you, you have to teach yourself,’ ” Nawar added. “It’s not something you can learn and take a test for. You have to want to learn how to program.”
While Nawar began in video games and moved to the classroom, Brossard started by reading up on Java coding from University of Washington class lecture notes.
He’s currently studying at a summer workshop at Digipen, which he was awarded a scholarship to. He hopes to go to the school in the future, but his parents are more interested in the UW. He feels he would do better specifically with Digipen’s smaller class size.
“I feel like the environment is better there,” he said. “(Students are)more like a family there instead of UW, where it’s so large and you’re not as close to everybody.”
Henderson, Kentwood’s business teacher, took up teaching computer science seven years ago after the former teacher was laid off.
She believes that computer literacy is one of the most essential skills students can learn today to prepare them for the future.
“It’s around kids on a daily basis,” she says. “Every part of their life right now is affected by technology.”
Kids today update on Facebook, Twitter or WordPress or program games to be played on Xbox’s arcade or upload to the popular digital distribution service Steam.
Henderson teaches three different computer science classes at Kentwood, an introduction to programming followed by game programming with XNA and Visual Studio. After these, Henderson offers an advanced class for students to work on their own projects, putting the skills they have to practical use.