Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

All posts from April, 2013

Partner Highlight: FHI 360

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Posted Apr. 25, 2013

CategoryGaming Community, Partner Highlight

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One of the “awesomest” projects I get to work on here at E-Line is our Gamestar Mechanic school project with our partners at FHI 360.  FHI 360 does many wonderful things, including working with a network of public schools here in NYC.  For three years in a row, we’ve given these middle schools the opportunity to participate in a Gamestar Mechanic program.  Here are the basics:

Training: We train teachers to use Gamestar Mechanic as an effective learning tool.  We have had after school teachers, math teachers, technology teachers, social studies teachers, art teachers, science teachers and librarians participate in the program. Each teacher uses Gamestar a little differently in their classroom, but all with the same goal of cultivating problem solving and systems thinking skills.

Partnership: We work closely throughout the spring semester with teachers to make sure their questions are answered and their classes run smoothly.  The best part is we get to visit the schools all the time to interact with the teachers and students in person.

Competition: Each year, we gear up classes for an interscholastic game design challenge.  Kids in every school form groups and make games that they submit to the designers here at Gamestar Mechanic.  Professional game designers give feedback on each game and the kids have time to iterate on their games according to feedback.  Then one group is chosen by the Gamestar designers from each class to represent their school in the game jam.

Working in groups for the competition

Game Jam: FHI 360 hosts an awesome event for representative groups from each school.  Kids meet at the FHI 360 offices to create games on the spot to a specific prompt that they learn about that day.  After an hour of rapid and intense game design, judges deliberate on the games and choose an interscholastic champion.  While all teams get prizes, the champion team gets a trophy and recognition to take back to their school.  Each year this game jam has been full of energy, pride, and great design skills from some super talented kids.

We’re happy to work with FHI 360 to offer this professional development and programming to schools that might otherwise not be able to use game design in their classrooms.  This year our Game Jam is in early June and we’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

Educator Highlight: Dara Ross

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Posted Apr. 22, 2013

CategoryGaming Education

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For the past 7 months I’ve been teaching game design classes once a week at Brooklyn International High School.  This school has such a positive vibe with enthusiastic students and teachers who are truly flexible and willing to take risks.  Dara Ross, a humanities teacher I’ve worked with at BIHS, has done many great projects with her students including working with Gamestar Mechanic.  I asked her to tell us a little bit about her experience teaching with Gamestar.  Here’s Dara:

Dara Ross

I teach 9th and 10th grade Humanities at the Brooklyn International High School. All of my students are recently arrived immigrants who are learning English. They have all been in the country for four years or less. My classroom is very diverse. I teach students from countries such as Yemen, Haiti, Tibet, Uzbekistan, China and Bangladesh. I teach students who don’t speak any English. In my classroom, I have students who love video games and who played fervently in their home countries as well as students who did not play any games in their home countries. I have a few students who had limited access to technology in their home countries and some students who never even used a computer before coming to New York City. Gamestar Mechanic has been an effective tool for teaching all of my learners how to problem-solve and how to think like a real game designer.

In my classroom I use Gamestar Mechanic as an end of unit assessment where students can create a game that shows their mastery of the content that I have taught. If we read Ancient Greece myths or Macbeth, then students can create a game that explores theme, characterization or plot structures. It’s also a great tool for storytelling and literacy. I have been surprised at how effective Gamestar Mechanic is at motivating students to revise and to make multiple iterations of their games. I have been also very happy at how the students so willingly and completely incorporate feedback into their game revisions. Now, when we are writing essays I can help them see how the process of revising a game is similar to the process of writing.

BIHS students

One thing that I find insanely challenging about Gamestar Mechanic is playing all of the wonderful games that my students create. I grew up playing Pitfall on Atari 2600 and later Castlevania on Nintendo NES, so I am used to using a joystick or a gamepad controller to play games. It’s super hard for me to play the games that my students create by pressing keys on the keyboard. The students create some very complex games using transporters, mazes and multiple enemies. I usually run out of health and die within the first few seconds of a student-created game. I have to use the cheat feature for teachers to skip ahead but then I don’t get the full experience of playing the games all the way through. This is when having student groups conducting peer reviews becomes very helpful. I have to rely on the students to play, assess and give feedback to their peers on my behalf which is a win-win situation. The inherent feedback and iteration loop of game design gives my students authentic and meaningful opportunities for using both their oral and written language skills.

There are a few things that I would love to see added into Gamestar Mechanic in the future (besides old-school Atari 2600 joystick integration). If I could, I would love if there were more audio and sound incorporated into Addison’s learning quest. It would also be great if there was the option for more customization in the game design where the students could draw and/or import their own avatars and enemies. I would also love to see a guide that breaks down what the different blocks, avatars and enemies can do.

One recommendation that I have for teachers looking to use Gamestar Mechanic is to be prepared to play and to have lots of fun! I would also caution teachers to not worry too much when the sights and sounds of their classroom begin to look less like a “traditional” classroom and more like the arcade that you used to hang out at after-school when you were a teenager. Just remember that your students are not only having tons of fun, but through designing their own games they are learning a massive amount of skills such as: giving and incorporating meaningful feedback; revising and iteration processes; motor skills; problem solving; and strategic thinking.

Thanks, Dara! We hear your advice and will definitely take it into account!

If you’re a teacher using Gamestar Mechanic in your classroom and want to share your story, please get in touch!

Educator Highlight: Tyler Watts

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Posted Apr. 16, 2013

CategoryGaming Community, Gaming Education, Guest Post

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Two of Tyler's students using Gamestar

We’re starting a new blog series here to showcase some of the amazing teachers who have been using Gamestar Mechanic in their classrooms and to encourage them to share their stories, ideas and projects with other teachers.

Today, we’re talking to Tyler Watts.  Tyler has been using Gamestar Mechanic for three years now with his students in Kansas City, MO.

Tyler, thanks so much for being a part of our new teacher series! We’re excited to hear more about the ways you’re using Gamestar Mechanic and other game design tools in your classroom. Why don’t we start with a little background on you – where you’re from and what you teach.

Tyler:  I am from Kansas City, MO, and I teach at KIPP Endeavor Academy, a charter middle school that teaches grades 5-8th. I teach Computer Science, which focuses on teaching programming and computational thinking. We work to become producers of digital content rather than only consumers of it.

What made you start using Gamestar Mechanic with your students?

Tyler:  I used Scratch with great success with my Computer Science students, and they would learn how to create animations in Scratch well. When I told my students to make a game, they would struggle on where to start. It was evident that they knew how to play games, but lacked game design knowledge. I needed something to teach them the elements of game design, and that is what caused me to find Gamestar Mechanic.

Were there any challenges in the beginning and if so, how did you overcome them?

Tyler:  I faced two challenges in Gamestar Mechanic. The first was that some students lacked the hand-eye coordination skills to complete some of the timed Platformer levels. This challenge was overcome by allowing me showcase my NES skills. :) I will show a student how to get to the end of a level and purposely lose at the end, so that the student completes it for themself. I encourage students to ask for help from a peer before coming to me.

The second challenge was that students love Gamestar Mechanic too much! I signed up my first group of 123 students up for Gamestar on a Friday, and over 30% of them logged on to Gamestar over the weekend. This statistic amazed me because, due to the Digital Divide, many of my students do not have Internet access at home, so some were going to the library just to play Gamestar. They were choosing to do game design just because it was fun! I didn’t tell them that they could or could not log in to Gamestar at home.

How have you seen game design impact your classroom?

Tyler:  Game design encourages students to think of how many small elements can form together to make a product. This thought process teaches computational thinking, which supports problem solving and STEM skills. Thinking of your audience for a game teaches a student empathy and digital citizenship because it encourages students to think of others’ experiences. Finally, game design encourages creativity, which I agree with Sir Ken Robinson in that it is a new “literacy” for the 21st century.

How do you see game design impacting education as a whole?

Tyler:  In the United States education system, we are removing the fun and playfulness of learning. Playing is a natural element of the way that the human mind learns. Game design challenges students to think creatively, collaborate, and problem solve. These skills will be key for success in our students’ future.

Are you using other game design tools with your classes? And if so, do you start them on one and then move them to another or how do you decide which tools to use?

Tyler:  Gamestar Mechnic prepares students for MIT’s Scratch. From Scratch, students move on to MIT’s AppInventor to design apps for Android phones.  Other resources that I am thinking about using are YoYo Game’s GameMaker and or AgentSheets.

What inspires you as a teacher? What keeps you driven to engage your students?

Tyler:  Seeing the joy of creating something on a computer either in Gamestar, Scatch, or AppInventor. As the video at Code.org says, programmers are today’s wizards.  They can make something out of nothing, and share it with the world.

What else would you like to share about your classes or your teaching practice?

Tyler:  Instead of describing in words, I would rather show a video of my students that was created by one of my professors, Dr. Friend, at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. It can be found at http://vimeo.com/51598746.

Thanks again, Tyler, for sharing your story with our audience!

If you’re a teacher using Gamestar Mechanic in your classroom and want to share your story, please get in touch!

Gamestar Case Study

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Posted Apr. 12, 2013

CategoryGames Research

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I’d like to take a minute to share with you this case study on Gamestar Mechanic written by Peter Hall on Design Minds.  Peter has been tracking the use of Gamestar in classrooms around Brisbane, Australia.

The case study does a great job of explaining what Gamestar is and how it can further systems thinking for students.  There are two parts of this case study which are particularly poignant:

While Gamestar gives students many means to reflect and think critically about their work, getting students to partake in meaningful reflection is challenging “amid the seductive glow of the computer screen, truncated lesson times and distracted students.”  Hall goes on to describe a shift in environment that can be a solution to this challenge: using physical games away from the smart classroom.  Like Hall, I’ve observed successful courses in which students explore games through sports, board games, and word games as a counterpart to their digital game design work.  Hall compares two groups of students, one who used Gamestar only, and one who mixed Gamestar with physical game activities, finding that the mixed physical and digital class had better opportunity for decision-making and discussion.

Another key point in this case study is about students excelling while using Gamestar when they otherwise are not engaged in school.

“Several teachers provide evidence of otherwise disenfranchised students suddenly becoming quite obsessive and productive when confronted with Gamestar Mechanic, empowered with their knowledge and skill to assist fellow classmates in conquering levels, collecting sprites or building games.”

I’ve also observed students who have trouble focusing, writing, or collaborating become engaged while working on game design activities, a testament that when kids are naturally passionate about a subject, they are more inclined to engage with it in an academic setting.

Thank you, Design Minds, for publishing such an interesting study on Gamestar Mechanic!