Innovating in the classroom with real-time tools

By Linda Sellheim |
June 10, 2020
We recently explored how interactive 3D skills are seeing huge demand in the job market, opening up exciting new careers. But did you know that real-time technology is now also being used in the classroom to teach everything from history to math? We caught up with three teachers about the innovative ways they’re using real-time tools in their classes across both core subjects and electives like game development.

Teaching game development with Fortnite Creative 

When students in the eighth-grade game development class at William Annin Middle School in New Jersey wanted to use Fortnite Creative for their final project, they wrote a very persuasive letter to their administration and won approval.

It was up to their teacher, Steve Isaacs, to guide them through creating a full game entirely on the platform. “To be honest, I’d been waiting for students to ask to use Fortnite ever since Creative Mode was released,” he says. 

The ability to save work to the cloud and access it from a range of devices, regularly updated features, and accessibility for their peers are some of the reasons the students chose the platform. Isaacs saw it as an opportunity to let their imaginations run wild. “The sandbox environment of Fortnite Creative lends so well to encouraging creativity in students,” he says.
Students were drawn to the devices as they facilitated the automation in the game. “They also seemed to gravitate toward the traps throughout, as well as checkpoints so that players did not have to start the entire game over every time they were eliminated,” says Isaacs.
After his success with Fortnite Creative, Isaacs plans to introduce his class to Unreal Engine. “The students who participated in this project started to understand that Unreal Engine could be the next step,” he says. “I will likely begin to introduce Unreal Engine into my middle-school class.”

Beyond his game design and development course, Isaacs has been working with other educators to help them use Fortnite Creative in their history courses. “All of these tools are open-ended, allowing educators and students to demonstrate their creativity and their knowledge in a wide variety of ways,” he says. “I expect to see it used in all content areas, as the sandbox environment lends itself well to creating content for any subject area.”
For Isaacs, real-time technology enables students to become active participants in their education—rather than passively absorbing information. “I’m a firm believer in putting students in the active role of creating content rather than just consuming content,” he explains. “Educators and students can use these tools to create interactive learning experiences and even co-create them.”

Real-time technology sparks students’ imaginations

Chris Allen is ‌a game‌ ‌design‌ ‌teacher‌ in a career tech education program ‌at River‌ ‌Springs‌ ‌Charter‌ ‌School in California. His class originally started out focusing on game concepts and 3D modeling, but quickly transformed into an Unreal Engine class. “The main reason for the change was to expose students to the suite of tools available in Unreal Engine, as well as educating my students on coding concepts using Blueprints,” he explains.
Unreal Engine's Material Editor
By leveraging the Blueprint visual scripting system—Unreal Engine’s node-based coding system for non-programmers—students can start creating in no time. “The implementation of Blueprints and some content examples really help to get game prototypes up and running quickly,” Allen says.

Allen works closely with other teachers to develop content for them to start using over the school year. “Students love being able to use Unreal Engine since so many of them are gamers and are already Fortnite fans,” he says. “It provides a unique approach to learning core subjects that I believe students really gravitate toward.”
A character inside the Unreal Editor
Like Isaacs, Allen found that real-time technology sparks his students’ imaginations with new ideas. “My students love Unreal Engine. Many of them take to it very easily and let their imaginations run wild,” he says. “Since almost any kind of project can be created using the engine, it allows students to create their own games based on their preferences and interests.”
A sample student project from River Springs Charter School
After their success using Unreal Engine for game development, River‌ Springs ‌is now looking to incorporate real-time tools into core subjects. “We've already come up with a few ideas. History students can tour museums or view historical events in real-time 3D or even VR,” Allen says. “And math students can work with physics built into Unreal Engine or develop their own math-based programming solutions.”

Teaching history with virtual museums built in Unreal Engine 

Nick Pant uses Unreal Engine in his high school American history class at the Dayton Regional STEM School, spending three weeks teaching introductory concepts of level creation and visual scripting, after which students create a virtual museum.

Building an environment in the classroom
Like Allen and Isaacs, Pant found that real-time technology opened up a world of creative possibilities for his students. “One of the reasons I chose the virtual history museum project is because everyone knows what a museum looks like,” he says. “When students are offered the flexibility to create a new kind of museum, they realize that their traditional idea of what a museum looks like drastically changes.”
A virtual history museum
Unreal Engine enables students to create the museum they always wanted to visit. “Ever wonder what a museum that floats on water looks like? Create it in Unreal. Do you want to have a museum on the top of a mountain? Figure out how landscape and terrain tools can help you reach that goal,” Pant says. “Once students learn about particle effects, every museum contains fire. That may not be feasible in the real world, but with Unreal Engine, anything is possible!”

The availability of a wide array of written and video Unreal Engine tutorials has been invaluable to Pant. “That gave me confidence that high school students could find success while learning professional skills related to something as relevant as video games,” he says. 

Having a wealth of learning content at his disposal makes it possible for Pant to incorporate technology into any course, no matter how traditional the subject. “It’s interesting how things have played out because my passion is history, and at first glance, something like Unreal seems so technologically advanced, it would seem that it’s the polar opposite to learning about old stuff,” he says. “I think this says a lot about what Epic Games has done to make Unreal accessible to a wide variety of learners. I may not have had the confidence to use Unreal in my classroom without the written and video tutorials provided by Epic Games.”
Pant’s class has also seen some of the diverse uses of real-time technology, including virtual production. “Seeing how Unreal can be used to assist filmmakers—such as with VR and LED screens on the set of The Mandalorian—is exciting because students are challenged to make videos in my class throughout the year,” Pant explains. 

Having enjoyed success using Unreal Engine and seeing students grow in so many ways, Pant now shares the lessons he’s learned with other teachers. “Unreal has the ability to create better thinkers, spark innovation, and prove to students on a very personal level that they have the capacity to overcome obstacles,” he says. “As it’s recognized that teachers can guide student learning without being masters in Unreal, I think game design will continue to find relevance in education.”


*Fortnite is rated T for Teen by the ESRB for violence. Fortnite may also include online interactions that are not rated by the ESRB. Educators should only use Fortnite Creative in their classrooms for students that are 13+ years old and obtain parental consent. For more information, please review Epic's privacy policy

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