Trudi Perkins

January 19, 2016

Every month in our UCCI newsletter, we feature one of the extraordinary educators we have worked with at the UCCI Institutes and in the UCCI Teacher Exchange. We started this feature so that we could have a way of publicly showcasing how creative, innovative, and smart California teachers are. We archive every issue of the Teacher Spotlight here, on the UCCI website, at our Teacher Spotlight page.

This month the spotlight is on Trudi Perkins, English Teacher, Augustus F. Hawkins High School

We chatted with Trudi about her current role at Augustus F. Hawkins High School and her non-profit educational scholarship foundation... 


What do you do, and why?
As a teacher you take on many different roles from moment to moment. However, I think that as an educator, one of the most important things that I do is to recognize the need to consistently try and find ways of motivating students toward wanting to learn. I realized early in my teaching career that you cannot force someone to learn; the desire and motivation must be intrinsic. With this in mind, it is always important to me to find learning tools that support a pedagogical focus that works well in a highly interactive classroom environment. I try to find ways to build student autonomy into almost all of my lessons, which helps to empower them as learners and gives them a greater appreciation for lesson aspects that present a rigorous exposure to the Language Arts and CTE skills. Keeping on top of it all requires quite an investment of time outside of the classroom, and often, personal expense, but I do it because my students deserve the best chances at active engagement with academics. Hopefully, their experiences in my class will translate into skills that help to make them successful in their future careers, regardless of whether or not they follow a game design pathway.

How long have you been teaching, and how did you decide to become a teacher?
I’ve been an English teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District for ten years, teaching at both middle school and high school levels. This is my third year teaching at Augustus F. Hawkins High School in the Critical Design and Gaming School (C:\DAGS), located in South Los Angeles. For me teaching was less of a decision and more of what I would call having all of the pieces fall into place. I had been working in the title and escrow industry, when the real estate bubble burst. Unfortunately, I was a casualty of the downsizing that occurred across the real estate industry, and needed to find a new job fast. A friend reminded me that several years earlier, though just trying to be supportive of another friend who needed to take the test, I had taken and passed the CBEST; having done so made me eligible to become a substitute teacher. I had to search for the results of the test because when I had initially received them, I gave them no thought and shoved them into a drawer only to forget about them.  My mother was a teacher, as were several others in my family, so I had always said that I would never be a teacher. I learned that you should never say never, because once I got into the classroom and experienced what it meant to be a teacher, there was no looking back. I knew I’d found the profession and the calling that I was meant to fulfill. I was once told that in order to find your purpose in life you should think about what it is that you could do every day even if you didn’t get paid for it.  For me that is reading and writing. I believe that is one reason why I enjoy being an English teacher so much. I’m a writer at heart, and being able to combine my love for words with my interest in computers and my natural desire to help others learn fits me just perfectly.

Prior to your UCCI Institute participation, had you done any integration of CTE and academics?
My experience with technology in education started about three years into my teaching career, and was pretty much me simply experimenting and trying out different online applications that I would come across, basically, looking for a variety of ways that I could bring more technology into my classroom. I had a laptop cart in my classroom, but the one thing I did not want to do was simply have my students use the computers as word-processing tools. I wanted to be able to introduce them to ways that technology is used in the business environment, and in the academic world, and to really give them a chance to see that presentation was important to the quality of their work. Having had positive experiences with the use of technology in class and the desire to learn more, I sought out colleges that offered degrees in the use of educational technology. I enrolled at Full Sail University, which offers an online program for Master of Science in Education Media Design and Technology, and once I received that degree I began looking at different opportunities within the field of education that would give me a chance to use my newly gained skills and knowledge. That’s what gave me the confidence to apply to work at the Critical Design and Gaming School.

You teach English courses integrated with game design, and you were on a team that created one of those courses. What was the learning curve like for you in terms of collaborating to develop and then to teach these courses?
I teach a UCCI developed 10th grade ELA course, “GameCraft: English 10 with Game Development", and a 9th grade English course “Writing Games for Social Change”, which is a course that I helped to develop through the UCCI Institute in 2014. One of the things that I really appreciated about the process of creating the course was that it required participants to develop their own collaborative processes. By determining our collaborative methods as a team, all participants could feel as if they were truly stakeholders in the outcome of the finished product. In terms of a learning curve, coming from the Critical Design and Gaming School, our normal practices school-wide are collaborative and teacher-driven. At Hawkins High School, there is continual collaboration, sharing of thoughts, ideas and practices, so the Institute’s collaborative practice was sort of a natural way of working for me.
What do your students think of the English/game design classes?
My students enjoy their time in this class because they tend to have a lot of fun with the assignments. They’re very excited about the fact that they get to play with the games while they’re learning. Many days, my classroom is a beautiful cacophony amidst controlled chaos! Teams of students are working together, developing ideas, turning concepts into creations; someone else is looking for index cards to make game pieces, a pair of students are storyboarding and debating over the details. Others may be using one of the online tools to document their work or track the completion of tasks. Students often remark that they appreciate being able to work at their own pace, instead of feeling the need to keep up with others. They express that this format allows them to relax and put their best efforts into their work. Because the design process is iterative, students are able to build resilience, and are becoming more comfortable with the idea that failure is simply an opportunity to learn from and correct our mistakes, and then try it again.
Recently, one of my students expressed his thoughts about the course. As usual, I was bouncing from table to table checking on progress, listening to idea proposals, and answering questions, when he called out to me from across the room. With a huge smile on his face says, “Hey, Ms. Perkins, I just love this class!”  I responded with, “That’s great, because you know what? I just love this class, too!” I remember feeling thankful for the reminder of why I do this job.  I do it every day with the hope of giving more students the opportunity to see how much they can enjoy learning, and connect that learning to an understanding of how it can impact their future.

What have you learned from teaching in a school focused on providing students with the skills and content knowledge to become game designers?
Working in a school such as the Critical Design and Gaming School at Augustus F. Hawkins H.S., whose entire program focuses on game design and game design theories to teach core academic skills has taught me to look at games through a different lens. It has helped me to recognize that games have a much greater impact on society than I had understood in the past. Working here has actually changed my entire teaching practice, and the way that I think about the methods of presentation within my lessons. I think the greatest thing I’ve learned from teaching in a game design school is how important it is for students to learn how to use critical thinking skills. When I’m developing my lesson plans and compiling the components of the lesson, critical thinking is one of the key elements that I check for first. By remaining focused on the incorporation of thought processes, I can better ensure that the learning activities within the lessons give my students an opportunity to demonstrate what they understand- to actually do and create something, rather than simply ingesting information.
One of the things I appreciate most about working in C:\DAGS is that there is so much creativity and knowledge among our staff, that there is never a shortage of ideas, collaborators, and impromptu brainstorming sessions! Working in a school that is closely connected through Linked Learning with industry partners from the game design and entertainment fields, I’ve had a chance to see how important the development of critical thinking and design skills are for our students, and for their future. Game design teaches students how to work in teams, to share responsibility, and to be courageous in their exploration of knowledge. Using game design principles in their work helps them to understand the importance of developing strong comprehension, writing and speaking skills. It helps them to know why these skills will be beneficial to them whether their lives head in the direction of higher education or into the workforce. I think this course is important for our students, because in going from being consumers of games to creators of games, they are presented with options for their future, which they may not have seen were it not for a learning environment like the Critical Design and Gaming School. Most importantly, I’ve learned how especially important it is for us to continue our work at C:\DAGS because our students, here in South L.A., represent the population of workers who are the least represented within the gaming industry workforce.
Do you have any favorite online resources for teaching English and/or game design?
English Central is one of my favorite resources for building reading, speaking and listening skills, as well as vocabulary development. It’s a website that has thousands of very short video clips, suitable for all levels, on a wide variety of subjects. As the students watch the videos the text is transcribed and played on the screen as the narrator speaks. Learners can hover their mouse over a word and the definition will be displayed, if they click on the word, the word is spoken so that student gets a clear and correct pronunciation of the word. There is also a feature in which students can record themselves reading the text aloud, and English central scores their performance based on pronunciation.

As far as game tools, one site that I’ve experimented with, and found to be a great way to add gamification to my class, is Classcraft. This online website allows students to complete tasks as individuals, or teams, and presents them with a variety of challenges that can impact their player health points either positively or negatively, there are opportunities to use their points to help save a team member from “falling in battle”. It has leader boards and is easy to use for both teacher and student. My students enjoyed the spontaneity that the game allowed me to introduce into the class.
We’d love to hear about any non-academic interests/experiences/hobbies you have, or perhaps related to academics but not necessarily to your current role.
Since I am currently a student in the EdD program at USC, there isn’t much time for anything right now, except for academics. Additionally, I help to run a non-profit educational scholarship foundation (the Evelyn E. Perkins Scholarship Foundation), which my sisters and I started ten years ago as a way to honor the memory of our mother. However, when I do have a little time for relaxation and fun, there are lots of things that I enjoy doing outside of work. First and foremost would be writing short stories, poetry, and I’ve even got the beginnings of a couple of novels awaiting my attention.  I also enjoy cooking and trying out new recipes; having dinner parties or “just because” get-togethers with friends, where we all try out new recipes that we’ve created. I like traveling when I can, bike riding, listening to music, and can also get into anything creative such as painting, arts and crafts. Oh yeah, there’s also that rickety dog house that I built. The one neither of my dogs will use. My construction skills could be better, but at least I tried. Maybe one day I’ll try it again. I’m resilient. I’m a teacher!

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“I've gained more from this institute in regards to curriculum development than any other program I've been associated with in my 12 years of teaching.” 

- Aaron Lemos, Spring 2013 UCCI Institutes