Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

All posts from January, 2012

Digital Learning Day


Posted Jan. 31, 2012



It’s almost February, the month of love and chocolate and Digital Learning Day.  On February 1st, 2012, thousands of teachers and millions of students will pledge to use technology in new, innovative ways in their classrooms.

The National Writing Project suggests three ideas for Digital Learning Day:

Start a Conversation: Discuss technology in learning, including tweeting with the tag #DLDay

Try One New Thing: Explore tech resources, start a new digital class project

Showcase Success:
Have students present what they’ve created with technology

With Gamestar Mechanic, you can encourage students to make games in honor of Digital Learning Day, have them review each other’s games as part of the conversation, and present their work as artifacts of digital learning.

If you’re already using Gamestar in your class, try to use it in a new way on February 1st.  Have you tried modeling stories in games?  How about designing a game that that makes a social impact statement?  There are a ton of ideas about how to use Gamestar with traditional school subjects in the Learning Guide.  And, if you’re a premium teacher, try assigning a Gamestar Class Project to your students (look in your Workshop under Classes).

Happy Digital Learning Day! Hope it’s an innovative and inspiring one!

STEM Challenge – Can you feel the hype?


Posted Jan. 23, 2012

CategoryChallenges and Contests


Today I googled 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge and read through 15 full pages of search results where people and organizations shared their excitement for this year’s STEM competition.

I also experienced this excitement first hand in Norfolk, VA this weekend as I participated in NSU’s TechFest by giving workshops on game design for the STEM Challenge.  One point that seemed to be an “Aha!” moment for the workshopers was the idea that the process of making a game is STEM.  For the STEM Challenge, you can submit games about a STEM topic (anything about science, technology, engineering, or math) but you can also submit a game on any topic you want.  If I build a game about a group of gummy bears racing each other on tricycles, the content of this game is not directly STEM-related, but the process I went through to make the game is.

A game is a system with a number of complex elements that have to coexist in balance with one another.  Controlling the racing gummy bears needs to be just tough enough to keep the player interested, but accessible enough to make the task doable.  This means thinking about the length and design of the race track, the skills and characteristics of each bear, the obstacles they will face while racing, and the trials and rewards the player receives.  To make a game like this fun, a designer needs to create a hypothesis of how the game will work, model the game system, test it using other players, and iterate on the design to rework the original hypothesis.  This game design process looks very similar to the scientific method! Game designers use systems thinking, critical thinking, and problem solving to create any game, even a silly one.  (Not to mention, the gummy bear racing game needs to take speed, velocity, and acceleration factors into account – that’s straight up math).

This is why you can enter any kind of game into the National STEM Video Game Challenge.  All game design fosters STEM thinking, and a game about a STEM topic just takes that thinking a little deeper into specific STEM subject matter.

Check out these links for info about preparing your students (and yourself!) for the STEM Challenge:

Girls and STEM


Posted Jan. 16, 2012

CategoryGaming Community


Sadly and persistently, the number of women in technology fields is outstandingly low.  Even though women make up half the workforce, they hold less than 25% of all STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)-related jobs.

This recent spotlight on the Digital Media and Learning site features the Techbridge, an after school and summer program, that promotes girls’ interest in STEM.  One important way that Techbridge fosters this interest is by facilitating connections between the girls and role models and mentors.  The DML spotlight brings up two main points about how to engage girls and women in STEM: include mentors and use messaging geared toward women.  Creating a job position, or camp or school application that stresses competition and an “every man for himself” attitude is a turn off for women, even those who are already adept in STEM skills and qualified for the position.  The key to get more and girls working in STEM? Emphasize opportunities for mentorship and learning, the article says.

An article on MindShift takes exception to the idea that the problem of so few women in STEM can be changed by targeting a “women’s interests.”  Here, the author stresses that it all boils down to our understanding “that it’s not about a fixed set of abilities, but about what can be learned.”  If girls believe that intellectual ability can be expanded, they are more willing to approach (and excel) in STEM subjects than if they believe that intellectual skills are a gift.

So what about girls and Gamestar? The truth is, we don’t have information about how many of our active Gamestar users are girls.  When kids make their accounts they don’t state if they are male or female.  While some usernames might give away that the user is a girl (vanessa123, or babygirl7 for example), even then we can’t be sure because your username can be whatever you want.  I’m curious if this cover of anonymity gives girls the freedom to engage in a tech-y platform without worrying about stigma or competition.  Maybe?  I do know that at least one Gamestar “power user” and contest winner is a girl, but I doubt her many fans in Game Alley know that!

Collaboration in Game Alley


Posted Jan. 09, 2012

CategoryGames by Kids


Game Alley is a community spot in Gamestar Mechanic where designers publish their games to share with the Gamestar network.  There are thousands of Game Alley games, and many of them are creative and special.  Today, I’d like to highlight a game that is doing something completely new:

The Alpha Collab: Part 1 by zenwarrior54

Here zenwarrior54 created the first two levels of a story.  zenwarrior54 set up the beginning of this adventure and purposefully did not design any further.  The outro of this game calls upon another designer to create the next chapter of the story.  This is how zenwarrior54 describes the premise:

“HELLO EVERYBODY! I had an idea for a series of games: I would make the first one in a series, then decide another player to make the next part, then when that player is done making that part, he/she would decide the next player to make the next part. And it goes on. Anyone can participate if they are called forth, so this will be a series that really belongs to the entire community.  So here we are! Now for the actual game: You are a young boy named Samuel . . “

And the game begins with the story of Samuel setting out on his quest.  I highly encourage you to play the game here – it’s a level about collecting information, no enemies and no chance to get hurt.

While Game Alley was not initially constructed for this kind of collaboration, the kids who make up are community are exceptional and invent new ways to share all the time.  Collaborative storytelling through game design is a real opportunity for learning (creative thinking, problem solving, expression).  This sounds like something I would assign in a class, but instead, it was born organically in Game Alley.  Now I’m waiting for Part 2!

Game Design Teacher


Posted Jan. 05, 2012

CategoryGaming Community


Nicole's storyboard

Sample student storyboard from Kevin's site

Kevin Hodgson is a teacher in western Massachusetts (my home!) who uses game design in his sixth grade classroom.  Kevin has done a lot of work with game design in general and Gamestar specifically.  In fact, we’ve showcased one of his lessons as an example lesson on our teacher site.

Now Kevin has set up a site of his own documenting his classes use of Gamestar Mechanic for a science video game project.  This site is simple, thorough, and packed with games and videos about his students’ work.  Kevin says:

My hope is that my own sharing out of our science-based video game design project will inspire you to consider doing the same for your students, moving them from the role of “player” into the role of “creator.”

This site takes you through the process from brainstorming to collaborative design to game reviews.  He even speaks to using game design as a catalyst for reluctant writers.

I’m super impressed with this site and I hope it inspires other teachers to present their work in such an exciting and accessible way.  This is something that both student and teacher should be proud of.

Thanks for sharing, Kevin!

Custom Backgrounds


Posted Jan. 03, 2012

CategoryGames by Kids


Happy New Year! 2011 was a big year for Gamestar Mechanic.  Thousands of players joined our community, and we added countless features to the Gamestar world.  One such feature is just beginning to hit its stride: custom backgrounds.

We received a multitude of requests for custom backgrounds before we implemented the feature.  Even though there was demand, we took our time carefully planning the feature before putting it in the game.  A good custom background matches the gameplay and story of the game.  It’s not distracting, and it’s not offensive.  And, of course, it is a background that you are legally allowed to use.  To earn the right to use their own custom backgrounds, players must go through the Custom Background Challenge where they learn how to make backgrounds appropriately and responsibly (available to premium users in the Workshop under Challenges and Contests).

I’d like to highlight some awesome games with custom backgrounds.  Check ’em out!

Train to Nexus (Easy) by Alakazam

This long game tells the story of Rick, a normal office worker who leaves work one day to unknowingly embark on the adventure of a lifetime.  Backgrounds are landscape and sky photos.  (Despite the title of this game, it isn’t that easy).

The Wyvern’s Rage by nitrox116

This is another difficult and long game, but it takes only one look at Level 1 to see the impact of the custom backgrounds.  nitrox116 creates an enchanting and spooky mood using the backgrounds and in-game messages.  I also like how this game’s levels switch between Gamestar backgrounds and custom backgrounds.

Tales of Versagon by Omni_builder

This game is one long level that creates a rich world where the hero (you) must take on multiple quests.  The background is hand-made by Omni_builder and each pixel is mapped carefully to the game space.  Even if you don’t finish this whole level, it’s worth it to take a look at this background and appreciate the hard work and precision put into it.

What are the ways custom backgrounds could be used in the classroom?  They can definitely bring an artistic and personalized angle to any game design project.  Let me know if you try out using custom backgrounds with your students!