Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

All posts from March, 2013

Partner Highlight: The Scholastic Awards

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Posted Mar. 27, 2013

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Gaming Community, Partner Highlight

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Gamestar Mechanic has had the good fortune to work with the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards since our early days in Beta phase. The Scholastic Awards is a 90 year-old program begun by the founder of Scholastic, Inc. that recognizes talented young artists and writers and provides them with opportunities for recognition, exhibition and awards.  We’re happy to say that every year a few of our Gamestar Mechanic users are winners in this impressive program!

Scott Larner

We caught up with Scott Larner, the Senior Manager of National Programs at the Scholastic Awards – and an avid game player! – and asked him to share his thoughts about game design, creativity and education.

Thanks, Scott for taking time to talk to us and to share your thoughts with our teacher community! We would love to hear more about why the Scholastic Awards launched a category for video game design and how you’ve seen this category grow over the past couple of years. 

Scott:  The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards has always sought to respond and recognize the creativity of middle and high school students – in whatever form it takes. The photography category was introduced in the 1940s; in the early 2000s The Scholastic Awards began to honor students for computer-generated art. Like these earlier categories, Video Game Design was added to respond to an evolution of the way young artists were choosing to express themselves. We couldn’t afford to look away from the rich and eclectic work being done by young people designing games.

The growth of the category has truly been astounding. In 2010, the first year we offered the category, we received a few hundred submissions. This year that number had grown to over 1,300 submissions.  This reflects a growth in the number of schools that offer video game design classes; hard work on the part of The Scholastic Awards staff in promoting the category; and the overwhelming number of young thinkers who were already designing games on their own who just needed an outlet to share their work. We expect the category to continue this explosive growth in the future and we look forward sharing the work of young game designers.  But even more importantly, we look forward to playing their fantastic games!

How do you see video game design relating to other areas of the Scholastic Awards? And do you see themes across categories?

Scott:  Teenagers are at a point in their lives when they are trying to figure out who they are and what they want from life, so naturally a lot of teenage art and writing explores themes of identity.  The Video Game category is no different. In a way, the video game category adds an interesting depth to this exploration of self. Designers build characters for players to inhabit, and place those characters in situations and worlds built from their imaginations. The experience of playing through a game can give the player unparalleled access to the idiosyncrasies of the designer’s inner-world. In the best games, you don’t just absorb the artist’s visions, you participate in them firsthand.

With 90 years of experience behind your program, what do you think are the main benefits of creative competition?

Scott:  The main benefit of The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards has been and will continue to be the validation from an impartial eye, from someone who is not your teacher, a family member, or a friend, from a professional who is evaluating your work on its own merit. Winning a Scholastic Award is an empowering moment. Artists like John Baldessari, Richard Avedon and Tom Otterness have all said that the Scholastic Awards served as a jumping-off point for their careers, as a moment when they came to the realization that they had the talent to pursue their creative passion, not merely as a pastime, but as a calling.

The scholarships, publication and exhibition opportunities, and ceremonies are all important parts of our program, and add a tremendous value to winning a Scholastic Art & Writing Award, but we find that the students who get the most out of The Awards are naturally drawn to writing, drawing, designing video games, and so on. It’s these students who embrace the recognition and really build on it.

We know you’re also a writer, Scott, so from your own perspective, can you talk a bit about how games are a powerful medium for creative writers?

Scott:  Because a person can play a video game at their own pace, it gives the writer an opportunity to explore details and add digressions that may not work in conventional prose. Whether it’s a message scratched into a wall or a dusty tome that the player can open and peruse, video games deliver story details in many new and interesting ways. Modern role-playing games like Mass Effect and the Elder Scrolls series have taken great advantage of this, providing the player with hundreds of pages of material which helps add flavor and fills out the history of their fictional worlds.

Lastly, how can teachers get their students involved in the Scholastic Awards?

Scott:  The most important thing that teachers can do is encourage creative students in their classes to submit to The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. We accept submissions starting in the middle of September at www.artandwriting.org. Teachers and students can also like us on Facebook to keep up with Scholastic Awards’ news. Email info@artandwriting.org for more information or to request posters and other promotional materials.

Thanks again, Scott! To learn more about the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, please visit www.artandwriting.org.

Guest Post – Kerri on the STEM Challenge

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Posted Mar. 25, 2013

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events, Guest Post

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Hey guys!

We’ve been doing a ton of traveling and game design workshops around the country to gear up for the National STEM Video Game Challenge.  Our guest blogger today, Kerri Schlottman, is E-Line Media’s VP of Business and Partnership Development and has been coordinating the efforts on making these workshops a success (and they have been).  Here’s Kerri to tell you more:

E-Line's Biz and Partnership Development Superstar

As you know, E-Line Media is a founding partner and co-presenter of the National STEM Video Game Challenge. This exciting Challenge encourages middle and high school youth to design their own games as a form of 21st century skill development and STEM learning – plus, making games is creative, fun and exciting, so what better way to encourage youth than by tapping into their natural passion for games! This year, the STEM Challenge received funding from the Hive NYC Learning Network and from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to hit the road and teach kids across the country how to design their own games.

We had no small feat – 30 workshops in just two months! We’re still in the swing of things and are working with an incredible group of museum and library educators across the country. Some of our partners for this amazing road trip include: American Museum of Natural History in NYC; Brooklyn Public Library; Orlando Public Library; Parmly Billings Library in Billings, MT (where over 50 kids showed up!); Hawkins County Library in Rogersville, TN; Museum of History & Industry in Seattle, WA; Sahara West Library in Las Vegas; Cranston Public Library in Cranston, RI; Arizona Science Center in Phoenix; Madison Children’s Museum in Madison, WI; and Iridescent Science Studio in the Bronx – to name a few.

Each workshop introduces youth to core game mechanics, how to build balanced game systems, and the iterative design process. Participants have a chance to make non-digital games in small groups and to also get started building games with Gamestar Mechanic. Plus, plenty of play testing and feedback!

All of these fun workshops have been an effort to spread the word about the STEM Challenge and to expose youth to the huge educational benefits of game design. To learn more, visit the STEM Challenge site! Original games can be submitted through April 24.

Games as Art

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Posted Mar. 14, 2013

CategoryEvents, Gaming Community, Gaming Education

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Last weekend I was in Fort Worth, Texas for NAEA, an awesome conference full of enthusiastic art educators.  I lead a workshop on game design specifically for the art classroom.  While many of the activities we usually incorporate into game design workshops (learning about the elements of game design, and building our own games) stayed the same, this workshop focused on what do games mean in an art context.  Are games really art?

We talked about Roger Ebert’s now infamous statement that “video games can never be art,” and Kellee Santiago’s TED talk rebuttal.  We looked at instances where game designers use very traditional fine arts to create their games, and at museum exhibits at the MoMA and Smithsonian on video games and the fine art found inside them.  Throughout these discussions it became increasingly clear that these art teachers want to embrace new forms of art and new media.  They want to connect with the art that their students enjoy.  They see so many artistic pathways for their students in games, including fine art, graphic design, and animation, but also game design itself.  These teachers talked about how creating an experience that draws an emotional response is art.  They said, “We accept film. We accept performance art.  Of course we accept games!”

It was refreshing and exciting to work with a group of educators who are so willing to be flexible and tie their artistic curriculum to what policy is focusing on (STEM learning) and what kids really enjoy.

Also, one group of art teachers created a sim out of Post-it notes and paperclips called Art School where players had to make art and critique each other’s work in order to “graduate” and win the game.  Art School was super fun, and surprisingly challenging!

Awesome Teacher Blog

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Posted Mar. 04, 2013

CategoryGaming Community, Gaming Education

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Sometimes I stumble upon an awesome teacher blog that I can’t resist sharing.  From the Desk of Mr. Walters is the blog of a teacher/designer/gamer who shares many insights about his work with gaming, gamification, and game-based learning in the classroom.  In this particular post, Mr. Walters shares a lesson plan on designing story games in Gamestar Mechanic.  My favorite quote from this post is:

“To develop even a simple game, a student must act as sociotechnical engineer, thinking about how people will interact with a system and how said systems shape both competitive and collaborative social interaction. This is the 21st Century Story Tellers Art. This is where Liberal Arts meets STEM.”

Mr. Walters totally gets it! Enjoy his blog.