EAST HANOVER, NJ- This April, Hanover Park students undertook an interdisciplinary service learning project called Arcading for Autism. This project brought together the computer science and art students to work hand in hand to create their own computer games from the ground up.
Spearheaded by Hanover Park’s math and computer science teacher, Matt Meyerkopf, and art teacher, Suzanne Apicella, the students spent countless hours building these games since the projects began in January. Their effort culminated in an arcade that expanded over half of Hanover Park’s library. Since the finished product came in April, which is Autism Awareness Month across the nation, the students turned their work into a fundraising event for Hanover Park’s special education programs.
The project actually got its start when Apicella and Meyerkopf, a Hanover Park alumnus himself, shared a classroom this year.
“It actually was a little happy accident,” Apicella said. “We had to share a room this year and I have classes in there for Adobe Illustrator and Matt had classes for his computer science. I was grading some art work and he was sitting next to me and it was like ‘hey what are you doing?’ I explained we were doing character development and he was doing his videogames, and we just started talking of this really neat way to incorporate art and math together.”
A happy little accident it was. The two showed off many examples of the artist’s illustrations and the coded games that were created by the computer science students. The two classes, in spite of working at different times and in different classes, had to work together to make this vision come true. The two classes spent most the new year in open dialogue through Google Classrooms and Google Docs that eventually saw the illustrations and coding come together to create the final games.
“It ended up being three rounds,” Meyerkopf went on to say about the collaboration. “The first round was the sketches themselves which we wrote on. After that, everything else went through the google drive. We would post what we wanted changed and they would put the fresh sketches back into the drive. Her students did not see the games until the finished result. We tried to explain to them that this is how the real world works. If you consult as a coder, you might not actually see the product until it is finally done.”
This worked the same way for the artists. Apicella emphasized how her students would have to come back to the designers with why certain changes had to be made and express the need for their artistic alterations. This left the students on both sides of the project with a sense of accomplishment and a real feel for what these fields entail in the job market.
“We kind of sat down and decided let’s turn this into a fundraiser,” Meyerkopf said. “We looked at a timeframe and April was the best time that worked out. We decided that since April is Autism Awareness Month, let’s call it Arcading for Autism.”
The group turned half the library into an arcade and charged 50 cents a game. It was a rousing success, with students from across the school attending and showing a great interest in the courses. The event alone raised $175 that was given to the special education classes for fidget chairs and an aptitude test.
“When I had seen this, I was fascinated,” Superintendent, Carol Grossi said. “And then to make it a service learning project, charge 50 cents and to donate that money to our kids’ program, is so meaningful for our kids to then see the fruits of their labor.”