Imagine eleven-year-old boys designing their own video game. Or a seven-year-old girl using CAD software to design a snowman ornament, and then printing it out in 3D for her family’s tree.
Mike Fischthal, a former game designer at Nickelodeon, doesn’t have to imagine. He’s created Pixel Academy, a school that teaches private lessons and workshops to children in video game design, programming, 3D printing, animation, and many other digital pursuits. Those creative kids are his students.
“They are so creative and imaginative that they’ll figure out pretty much everything,” he says.
Pixel Academy is now raising money on Fundable to move all their classes, which take place in libraries and other venues across New York City, into a permanent home. He envisions a school that’s open evenings, weekends, and holidays, where kids ages 8-18 can sign up for membership.
Fischthal believes that Pixel Academy can prepare kids for many new careers in digital media. Graduates could build their own apps, skip college and go right into an engineering job, or just have a leg up on their applications.
“I don’t want to piss anybody off and say it’s more important than learning history or geography…” says Fischthal. But “everything revolves around technology these days.”
Plus, these are subjects that most students won’t see in school. Not only is it hard to change curricula, but technological equipment and software can be expensive – and changing constantly. And teachers have to be trained on new materials. “It’s a lot to ask of the school system. They already have so much to do,” says Fischthal. “It’s difficult to keep up. I don’t think they will ever be able to.”
Pixel Academy joins a few other crowdfunded projects that aim to teach programming and creative design to kids. GoldieBlox is a construction set for girls, while ATOMS help bring any kid’s toys to life.
The genesis of Pixel Academy was Fischthal’s experience at a video game design camp for kids in San Francisco. Hoping to bring some of the same spirit and creativity to New York, he started offering private lessons. Demand skyrocketed, that job turned full-time, and he decided to hire more teachers in other areas. Now, he and his team run around the city with their equipment, hopefully sparking creativity in young minds.
“The highlight of every day is just hanging out with kids and seeing how excited they get when we work together and I show them how to do the next possible thing in game programming, and it just blows their mind and their eyes light up,” says Fischthal.
If he had his way, programming and design would be as integral to kids’ lives as soccer and baseball. “They should be learning these digital technologies all year long for years and years … This is a lifelong process, and there’s so much to learn.”