Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

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National STEM Video Game Challenge: Celebrating Success

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Posted May. 23, 2012

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events, Games by Kids

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An adventure game where your character moves around by manipulating the attractive and repulsive forces of the atom. A 3D battle against pathogens inside the human body. An early learning game starring a shark that teaches first graders about inequalities. They could be the latest releases from a premiere educational game studio, but these and 14 other incredible games were all made by students between the ages of 10 and 18: the winners of the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge Youth Prize.

On Monday, May 21, I had the pleasure of participating in the Challenge’s Celebration of Success where 28 youth game designers from around the country — out of a field of over 3,700 entries — were honored for their original game designs at an event held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC presented by Challenge Sponsor Microsoft.

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The youth winners began their visit with a VIP tour of the Smithsonian’s Art of Video Games exhibit where they got to see and play some of the most significant titles in the history of gaming. Then it was off to the auditorium where representatives from the game industry, government and the educational community — along with family and friends — recognized the designers for a job well done.

Challenge judge and game designer Sean Vesce of 20after1, who’s work includes titles like the Tomb Raider and Mech Warrior franchises, praised the designers’ work and talked about his own experience as a young game maker inspired by some of the great early Activision titles. Alex Games, Education Design Director at Microsoft also addressed the youth, telling them “You did something awesome! Making games, like anything good in life, takes a lot of hard work, a lot of perseverance and a lot of not giving up.” Dr. Games was followed by video congratulations to the winners from celebrity Challenge judge (and self-professed nerd) Zachary Levi of NBC’s Chuck.

Joining the sponsors and game industry professionals in praising the young designers were Representatives Debbie Wasserman-Shultz and Jim McGovern as well as Cristin Dorgelo, Assistant Director for Grand Challenges at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Following the ceremony, several of the winners of had the opportunity to demo their games for the guests in attendance.

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You can meet the 2012 Youth Prize winners and see some of the amazing things they’re doing in this video. You can also check out the complete winners list here with footage of each of the winning games and even links to play a few online.

Participate in the Real Robots of Robot High Beta

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Posted Apr. 28, 2012

CategoryGaming Education

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As those who have been following Gamestar and this blog for a while may know, one of the most compelling uses of Gamestar that we see (and one that was the subject of early academic research into Gamestar) is using game design to allow students to understand and model systems in other areas.

For the past few months, the team behind Gamestar has been working with the folks from the Start Strong Rhode Island initiative at Sojourner House on a game that applies this concept to an interesting (and perhaps unexpected) area: healthy relationships. Just like games (or biological systems, or mechanical systems, or technological systems or… well, you get the idea), a social environment is a system, and our theory is that by playing, making and sharing games based on social system dynamics, kids will gain a better understanding of how the social systems they inhabit work and be in a better position to deal with issue like gender-based violence, bullying and online safety.

This new game, The Real Robots of Robot High, includes a brand new original world and storyline (featuring the cast of the the titular reality tv series — the longest running and most successful in Robotville). While the game builds on the technology and concepts behind Gamestar, it allows for very different kinds of gameplay and game making. Instead of platforming and blasting, think, for example, about games where characters compete to spread (or prevent the spread) of rumors or challenge each other to see who can become the most influential.

This summer, we’re looking for a core group of teachers who might be interested in helping us beta test the Real Robots in preparation for its official release in the fall. Interested teachers can learn more and sign up for the beta by following this link.

Gamestar at SXSW

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Posted Feb. 24, 2012

CategoryEvents

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Attention Texans and festival goers: SXSW is just a few short weeks away. The Gamestar team will be out in force at a couple of events around youth game design.

To start things off on Monday, March 5th, Katya and I will be hosting an introductory game design workshop for teachers featuring Gamestar Mechanic. The workshop is part of AMD’s Game On pre-conference event hosted by SXSWedu. The day will include a bunch of exciting events, including several other workshops featuring other great youth game making tools and programs. For more information and to register, check out this link.

After SXSWedu, I’ll be sticking around for SXSWInteractive to host E-Line Media’s interactive youth game making booth at Screenburn. The Screenburn Arcade features great content from the commercial games industry, but this year we’re letting kids create games at the festival, too. Our booth will feature walk-up workshops in game design for kids as well as showcases and live demos by Austin-area youth game designers. Screenburn is open from March 9-11 at the Palmer Events Center in Austin and, best of all, admission is free. For more information, check out our event page or this article from the Austinist.

Hope to see you there!

Be a Healthivore: Make Healthy Living Games

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Posted Feb. 10, 2012

CategoryChallenges and Contests

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Healthivores

Games sometimes get a bad rap because of the stereotypical hard core gamer locked away in his basement for hours on end, never seeing the light of day. Our friends at Green Ribbon Schools have been using Gamestar for a while now and recently launched their own game design contest that turns this image on its ear by using game design to promote healthy living.

Green Ribbon Schools is an award program that recognizes schools participating in activities that promote and encourage a healthy and environmentally friendly learning environment. Their Healthivores Game Design Contest encourages students to design games that teach a healthy lesson. The contest website features an amazing range of resources ranging from videos to lesson plans to educational materials to help students and teachers get started in making their entries, even for folks who have never made a game or taught game design before. Students have the opportunity to win notebook computers for themselves, their teachers and their school for designing the best games.

The contest is open now through May 1, 2012. You can find out more at the contest website.

As followers of this blog know, we’ve found game design competitions to be a really effective way to engage and motivate students around the game design process, as well as to connect kids’ interest in game design with learning in other subject areas. It’s pretty neat to see others embracing this philosophy and putting together interesting and educational game design contests of their own.

Youth Game Designers at the White House Science Fair

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Posted Feb. 08, 2012

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events, Games by Kids

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I think it was when we walked past the battery of TV cameras and photographers in the East Room that it hit me: these kids are being recognized at the White House… by the President… for designing video games!

As the leader of the Gamestar Mechanic team here at E-Line Media and coordinator of the National STEM Video Game Challenge Youth Prize, I had the pleasure of accompanying two of our 2010 winners as they participated in the White House Science Fair on February 7th.

Tuesday’s event was the second Science Fair to take place at the White House during President Obama’s administration and represents his commitment to recognizing outstanding student achievement. As the President put it in his remarks to the students

Now, it is fitting that this year’s fair is happening just two days after the Super Bowl… I’m looking forward to having the Giants here at the White House so we can celebrate their achievements.  But what I’ve also said — I’ve said this many times — is if we are recognizing athletic achievement, then we should also be recognizing academic achievement and science achievement.  If we invite the team that wins the Super Bowl to the White House, then we need to invite some science fair winners to the White House as well.

Over 100 youth from a variety of STEM-oriented competitions attended the event, and let me tell you: these are some impressive kids. From students designing improved football helmets to help prevent traumatic brain injuries to the youngster who invented a waste-free sugar packet that dissolves in water, the ingenuity displayed by these talented young people was something amazing.

Representing the STEM Challenge were Shireen Zaineb, now in 8th Grade, from Milwaukee, WI. Shireen designed her winning game using Gamestar Mechanic as part of her work in technology class at the Milwaukee Montessori School with teacher Sherri Dodd — one of our first Gamestar Mechanic educators!

Joining Shireen was Jasper Hugunin, also in 8th Grade, from Islander Middle School in Mercer Island, WA. Jasper coded his own game from scratch using Javascript. Jasper’s game is designed to teach the player introductory computer science concepts like writing code, logical reasoning and debugging as they lead a robot through a series of mazes.

Along with a select group of students attending the event, Jasper had the opportunity to exhibit his game for the other kids and dignitaries present. Hearing Jasper describe the thought process that went into designing his game — to the likes of astronauts, Senior Department of Education officials and even Bill Nye the Science Guy — really reinforced for me all of the reasons that we think game design is such a great activity for young people.

When we launched the STEM Challenge in 2010, we knew that designing a digital game has tremendous learning benefits. Two years later, through the support of our sponsors and outreach partners, it’s truly incredible for me to see the competition grow and the work of our students be recognized at the highest levels.

I managed to snag a few photos of the event, which you can see in this slide show. You can also see the full video of President Obama’s remarks here.

The 2012 edition of the STEM Challenge the Challenge is accepting entries from middle, high school and collegestudents, as well as educators, through March 12, 2012 at stemchallenge.org.

Congratulations to Shireen, Jasper and all the amazing kids who participated in the White House Science Fair!