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2024 CTE Awards

At the top of his game

High school teacher animates students’ view of learning
New York Teacher
2024 Career and Technical Education Awards
Jonathan Fickies

Video game design teacher Craig Cannizzaro (left) says his subject area “sells itself” with his students at Ralph R. McKee Career and Technical Education HS on Staten Island.


The trio of high school juniors had been designing and programming Lost Echo, their first-person adventure video game, for weeks when they hit a snag: Their character was supposed to be able to walk upright, crouch or be prone, but it was doing all three in quick succession.

The snag was particularly frustrating because the functions worked correctly before the team members combined the elements they had created separately.

Craig Cannizzaro, their video game design teacher at Ralph R. McKee Career and Technical Education HS on Staten Island, helped them troubleshoot. He asked the students to compare the coding and do other assessments.

“I see the problem,” he said after quickly scanning the code, and a few seconds later, one of the students did, too.

“By the power of deduction, he’s got it! Yup,” said Cannizzaro, who has taught at McKee for eight years. He was one of the educators recognized for excellence at the 2024 CTE Awards in February.

Cannizzaro, who has a professional background in web design and computer graphics, teaches software engineering to students in grades 10–12. In their first year with him, they learn foundational computer science skills, and in the second year, they move into game design, where they deepen their understanding of computer science through an activity they enjoy.

In the March 7 class, students were creating cityscapes, caves, forests, dojos and other “environments” for their superheroes, wizards, package delivery people and other video-game characters to populate.

“You know, one of the hardest things that a lot of teachers deal with is getting the students interested in their work,” Cannizzaro said. “I don’t have to do that. Video game design sells itself.”

Some students may pursue careers in video game development, but game design and coding are also gateways to the larger computer science field, Cannizzaro noted. “There’s nothing here that any other software engineer wouldn’t be working on or understanding,” he said.

His classroom has special gaming chairs, curved monitors for heightened detail and backlit keyboards. The front of the room, which is used for collaborative student work, has high-back seating facing a screen that projected a two-dimensional racing game called Bowen’s Rush, named for McKee Principal Gregory Bowen. All eight career and technical education programs at the high school contributed to the project, including the retro arcade game cabinet, music and graphics. One of Cannizzaro’s prior classes created the original game, and his current class is developing a 3D version.

Matthew, a junior who is a self-described “big fanatic” of computer coding and gaming, said the class is a lot of fun. “I like how Mr. C teaches us,” he said. “He takes it slow. If you don’t understand, he explains it in a way that you could understand it.”

A recipe for success

CTE Award-winning baking teacher Shamel Donigan provides his students at Food and Finance HS with the tools to find success in the culinary industry and in life.

2024 CTE Awards

The passion that educators bring to Career and Technical Education programs and their ability to light their students’ pathways to success were lauded at this year’s CTE Awards Recognition Ceremony.
Related Topics: CTE