Dr. Smadar Bergman

Gaming Concepts Teacher

Benito Juarez Community Academy - Chicago, IL

Inspiring the next generation to reach their full potential, this urban public school teacher is using her experience to help drive her students toward achievement.

Triumphs for all students

Dr. Smadar Bergman’s Gaming Concepts class at Benito Juarez Community Academy is a small oasis in the mainly urban industrial district of Pilsen, Chicago. For these students, approximately 92.9% of whom come from a low income background, and 94.6% of whom are Hispanic*, her course brings to light computer programming fundamentals through video game creation.

With a Ph.D. in computer science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, Dr. Bergman left her high profile career as a researcher at Northwestern University’s Institute for the Learning Sciences and NASA Ames. She opted for high school teaching, joining with Chicago Public Schools: “If I can help even one student reach their full potential in computing, it will have been worth it.”

“GameSalad and the Chicago Public Schools’ Gaming Pathway are triumphs for all students- and underrepresented students in computer science, in particular.”

The majority of Dr. Bergman’s Benito Juarez students are first or second generation U.S. residents- most will be the first generation who graduate from high school.

When Dr. Bergman became lead of Gaming Pathways at Juarez, she searched for an age appropriate and engaging, yet rigorous, platform. She wanted a program where the students get up to speed quickly, experience success, are truly engaged yet challenged.

“My students loved how quickly they could create a fully functional game right from the start as they programmed in GameSalad, and I appreciate the visual platform and rigor required to develop a complex game.”

Finding engagement

Led by visionary Brenda Wilkerson, Chicago Public Schools established the Computer Science for All initiative in 2013. Serving more than 360,000 students, CPS was the first large school district in the country to make Computer Science a graduation requirement for every high school student. As a leader and innovator in urban education, this massive school district has committed to teaching children coding and offering opportunities to prepare all of their students for learning at four-year colleges—an impressive investment in the children they serve.

Video game creation provides a natural and engaging pathway into coding and computer science. Seeking to help increase self-esteem, excitement, and knowledge in a traditionally under-served student population, Dr. Bergman saw an opportunity to motivate and inspire students.

A perfect fit

Dr. Bergman found that GameSalad’s unique curriculum reignited a spark in her students. “They loved it right from the start,” she explains.

With sophisticated visual elements to engage and challenge her students, GameSalad provided instant feedback. Students quickly saw their work translate into an exciting and complex games. Suddenly Dr. Bergman found her students engaged and excited about developing games.

“Instead of teaching content, I like teaching students,” says Dr. Bergman. The GameSalad game development platform enables her to do that: students can see and track their progress, and they have to understand and implement intricate concepts in the platform. The reward comes not only from the actions themselves, but also from the critical and creative thinking that goes into it.

21st century skills

Dr. Bergman credits Chicago Public Schools with opening another avenue for graduating seniors. She sees a shift—more of her students are entering four-year colleges. She attributes this in part to the District’s commitment: preparing students for college and career, emphasizing the importance of computer science for all students.

Think like a programmer

Recently, Dr. Bergman’s students learned to build a GameSalad game that is a version of the original video game, Pong. Dr. Bergman asked the students to give a proposal and set their own timelines. They worked independently and in groups. She encouraged her students to think like game developers.

They were increasingly excited with each step: programming to make the ball move, make the paddle move, and to score points. It was rewarding for the students and for her as well.

One day, as Dr. Bergman walked into the classroom she recalls: “I was so elated… the students were working quietly and were really engaged in their work.” Even teachers in nearby classrooms or walking down the hallway told Dr. Bergman how impressed they were with how quiet and focused her students were.

A creative outlet

Dr. Bergman appreciates the opportunity to expand on the games. With GameSalad, students can create more levels and customize the games to a high degree. Dr. Bergman believes in the importance of the rigor of the GameSalad curriculum, along with its visual platform, in capturing students’ attention and keeping it.

“The GameSalad platform enables students to get up to speed quickly and create complex games that are of their own self-expression.”

Teachers also have support from the GameSalad team. About the ability to reach live support when she and her students need it she adds, “The customer service is beyond amazing!”

The platform and teacher support together deliver a strong learning and teaching experience. “This is why I am an advocate for GameSalad” she explains.

Seeing is believing

Dr. Bergman reminds us that nothing can replace the overall sense of achievement that sticks with students. With GameSalad for Education and her own thoughtful instruction and care, she has consistently seen students reaching these new heights.