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Lawrence students learning video game business

Some sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at The Brandeis

Some sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at The Brandeis School in Lawrence are learning to create video games. With some instructors, they are, from left, Ethan Marks, technology teacher Sara Wolf, Natalie Tsor, Danielle Weinstein, Samantha Friedman, Paulina Weinreich, Abbey Neuberg, teacher Michelle Litt and the head of the school Alese Gingold. (May 9, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

Different recyclable items fall from the sky and the player, an alpaca named Allie, must pick up the pieces and place them in the correct recycling bin. If Allie puts the pieces in the correct bin, the animated creature gains points. In the wrong bin and no points are awarded.

This is just one of the examples of how The Brandeis School, a private religious institution in Lawrence, is trying to incorporate video games and their development into its curriculum.

Microsoft student partner and Ithaca College senior Ashley Alicea told sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at the private pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school last week that they could have a career in designing video games if they really enjoyed it.

Along with telling her own story of designing games, she named the top video games that close to 50 Brandeis students had designed over the course of three months that addressed a social issue, while still being fun.

Although still in middle school, it's never too soon for students to consider career plans, Alicea said. "If you're interested in video games and you start now," said Alicea, 21, "you'll be amazing by my age." She used the example of a female student who won Microsoft's Kodu Cup, a game-developing award for kids between 9 and 17.

Alicea, originally from Puerto Rico, told students she began working with Microsoft after she and her video game design team at Ithaca College became finalists in the Imagine Cup, a yearly contest recognizing student video game designers. Since then, she has visited schools representing Microsoft, or on her own, to tell students about having a future developing video games. Alicea closed her presentation by naming the top three video games that Brandeis students had developed.

The college senior and her team at Microsoft were presented with 10 final projects from students that Brandeis teachers Sara Wolf and Michelle Litt selected. When selecting the top three, Alicea said the team looked for how fun the game was, if it could become a real game and how unique it was.

There was a winning team or student from each grade: Samantha Friedman, a sixth-grader from Lawrence; seventh-graders Danielle Weinstein of Woodmere, Natalie Tsor of North Woodmere and Abigail Neuberg from Long Beach; and Paulina Weinreich, an eighth-grader from Woodmere. Friedman developed a game called, "Feed the Homeless," where celebrities donate food and help the player feed the hungry. Weinstein, Tsor and Neuberg developed "Recycling Madness" featuring Allie the Alpaca. Weinreich developed a game called "Ultimate Playground" where a player must do different playground exercises while maintaining stamina and keeping a good heart rate.

Weinreich said she wasn't sure if she wanted to make a career out of video games, but did want to keep honing her creation. "I think that if I keep developing it, people will love it and it will be a great game," she said.

Wolf and Litt said students had worked on their projects for three months, after the Microsoft effort was brought to the school.

She said students focused on "how they can change the world in little ways. We wanted them to not get overwhelmed in the world, but thinking about things like cleaning up a park."

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