Mobile apps? There's a class for that at Nicolet

Caption: Nicolet High School junior Savion Dean works on his mobile app, called Red Shinobi, during a Mobile Apps and Game Design II class at Nicolet High School.

Caption: Nicolet High School junior Savion Dean works on his mobile app, called Red Shinobi, during a Mobile Apps and Game Design II class at Nicolet High School. Photo By Staff Photo by Jeff Rumage

March 5, 2015

Glendale — A new class at Nicolet High School is teaching students how to build the next Candy Crush or Angry Birds.

OK, so the smartphone apps created at Nicolet may not have the sleek design or popularity of those two games, but a recent trip to the newly-offered Mobile Apps and Game Design II class showed students are designing games that weave together multiple characters, levels and programming languages.

The teacher of the class, Michael Kania, said Nicolet is one of two high schools in the state to offer a mobile apps and game design curriculum.

Kania said he is impressed with how quickly the students have picked up on the Visual C# programming language and how hard the students work to transform their ideas into reality.

"All of these games they come up with are really unique ideas," he said. "It's incredible that they're able to have an idea, and then 90 days later, they have an app published in the Google Play store."

Savion Dean, for example, is creating a ninja game that follows a ninja named Aka through detailed, colorful landscapes as he fights sumo wrestlers, samurais and archers. Dean said he has spent months working on Red Shinobi, including many hours of his free time at home.

"When I was little, me and my brother would talk about how we wanted to design games, but back then we thought you had to go to Japan to design games. Then I found out there were classes here at Nicolet," Dean said. "It's a lot of work, but when you get into it, it's like you are working and working and working, and then when you look up, you can see everything you've created."

Dean isn't the only student who spends his spare time programming. Aaron Kauer, who is taking a second semester of the class along with AP Computer Programming, said he spends time outside the classroom learning the C++ language.

Using the JavaScript language he learned in his computer programming class, he has developed a tip calculator app with a sliding bar for the tip percentage. He plans to go to University of Wisconsin-Stout for computer science and game design development.

The class has introduced students like senior Sophia Geho to a field she hadn't seriously considered before. Although her main love is music and songwriting, she said the mobile apps and game design class has made her think about a career in computer programming.

Geho spent hours trying to turn a cat sketch into a character that leaps with natural movements across six levels of outer space.

While other students call on their artistic friends to create their game characters, Nacaira Davis combines her talents for drawing and programming. She said she came to Nicolet with hopes of becoming an animator, and her counselor encouraged her to express her artwork through computer programming.

Davis is now in her second semester of mobile apps and game design and is also taking her second semester of computer programming. Davis' game, called Sa'aia, chronicles an African princess who harnesses her superpowers to search for her kidnapped son.

Kania said he and other teachers in the business department decided to create the class two years ago in response to the growing demand for software developers and other computer programming occupations.

That's also how he came up with his two Microsoft certification courses. The first semester of the class certifies students as a Microsoft Office specialist, which means they have mastered all of Microsoft Office suite. The second class certifies students as Microsoft technology associates, which focuses more on networks, security and systems.

Students can earn as many as six college credits in each class.

"We sat down as a department and talked about what could we offer that's unique, and what could we do to give our students a competitive advantage," Kania said. "If you put something like Microsoft certification or app development on a resume, that's something that makes you stand out."

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