Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

All posts by katya

qCraft Curriculum

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Posted Jan. 06, 2014

CategoryGaming Community, Gaming Education

Recently I wrote a post on the exciting new mod for Minecraft, qCraft! The curriculum that accompanies the mod is now released and freely available here. It includes three 60-minute lessons on the basics of quantum physics appropriate for middle and high school students. Learn more about our development and testing of the qCraft curriculum in this interview by GamesAndLearning.org. If you bring quantum physics into your classroom with qCraft and its curriculum, let us know at educators at qcraft dot org.

Want to be in a case study on games?

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Posted Dec. 16, 2013

CategoryGames Research

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Hi Gamestar Mechanic NYC Educators!

Our friends at BrainPOP are involved in a cool research study funded by Gates on how teachers are using digital games for formative assessment. Part of the research involves creating some case studies, and they’re looking for local NYC-area teachers to participate.

Here’s the criteria to participate:

  • Teach grades 5-8 in NYC or the immediate area around NYC.
  • Teach in the content areas of social studies/history, ELA, math or science.
  • Able to use a selected game from BrainPOP’s GameUp as part of your regular curriculum in Winter/Spring 2014.
  • Be willing to participate in a PD session related to GameUp in late January, 2014.
  • Allow researchers to visit your classroom to observe use of the game, and participate in a debriefing interview about your experience with the game.

All teachers who participate in the case studies will receive:

  • Premium access to the BrainPOP web site.
  • A $250 expense allowance for your participation in the professional development.

If you are interested, you can read more here:  http://create.nyu.edu/agames and then you should complete this application: http://create.nyu.edu/application

It’s a pretty cool opportunity!

What the quantum?

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Posted Nov. 22, 2013

CategoryGaming Community, Partner Highlight

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Here at E-Line Media we’ve been working hard on a new, exciting project: teaching principles of quantum mechanics to kids through Minecraft. When I say this in conversation, I get reactions ranging from skeptical to shocked. Learning quantum mechanics is usually not in a kid’s normal curriculum, and Minecraft does not model much classical physics, not to mention quantum physics. But the truth is, understanding quantum physics will become more and more important through upcoming years and decades. Scientists are harnessing quantum principles to explore radical new technologies and concepts, including some that are already being built, like quantum computers. Joel Levin (MinecraftTeachr, TeacherGaming) says in this post:

By the time our 7-year-olds finish grad school, quantum computers may be commonplace.  A fundamental shift is on the horizon.  Some of the hardest problems in medicine, aerospace, statistics, and more will be tackled by machines using qubits instead of bits.  And it is the kids of today who will research, build, and utilize this revolutionary new class of hardware.  And to be perfectly frank, too few children are exposed to these sciences or are encouraged to pursue them as a career path.

That’s why we teamed up with TeacherGaming (the folks behind MinecraftEdu), quantum specialists at the California Institute of Technology, and our friends at Google to make qCraft, a mod of Minecraft that exposes basic principles in quantum mechanics. This mod includes blocks that have different properties depending on where you observe them, blocks that exist in superposition (multiple states at once) until you observe them, and the ability to entangle blocks so that observing one will also affect its entangled partners. These features are not meant to give a rigorous, in-depth look at the math and physics behind quantum mechanics. Instead they are a gateway for kids to play with and create worlds where the weirdness that happens on the quantum scale is manipulatable at an observable scale.

If you have students who play with and design systems in Gamestar Mechanic, or are builders and creators in Minecraft, the qCraft mod will let them use their game design and building skills to explore a new and fascinating area of science. Check out the qCraft sitewiki, and blog to learn more about the mod. In a few weeks, we’ll also be releasing a classroom curriculum featuring a teacher guide and MinecraftEdu maps to provide teachers with resources for using the mod with students. Stay tuned for more info on the curriculum and if you’re interested in helping us to beta test it by providing some early feedback, please let us know via email at educators at qcraft dot org.

Game Designer Guest Speaker

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Posted Oct. 10, 2013

CategoryGaming Community, Guest Post

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One of our game designers here at E-Line Media, Mike Wikan, had a unique opportunity recently. He visited a middle school class in St. Gabriel’s Catholic School in Austin, TX where he spent time with the students talking about what it means to be a professional game designer. Here’s Mike’s recap of his visit:

I got to spend some time with the wonderful Technology Class at St. Gabriel’s Catholic School in Austin the other day! They let me take up an hour regaling them with stories about game development, what skills I use, and my opinions on the importance of story in development, as well as answering their myriad questions! For example, one of the kids asked “When you are making a game, what is the process for getting Art into the game?”

I described the process of bringing a character into a game: First the designer describes the sort of creature he wants to make and creates a written design describing its properties!  It’s important to give enough detail for the artists, but not so much detail that the artists don’t have room to add their own ideas.  It then passes to the concept artist, who creates drawings to show what the creature might look like.  After we get it looking right, it passes to the modeler, who then creates a 3D mesh of the character and adds all the texture maps that give it color and the right look.

Usually at this point the modeler adds a “skeleton” to the model so it can be made to move.  It then passes to an animator who adds all the animations so it can be made to move around and perform in the ways the designer specified at the beginning. Lastly, it goes to the programmer, who adds all the computer code to make it move around in the world and perform its behavior. It takes a lot of talented people working together to make anything from scratch in a game. It’s important to leave enough room for everyone to add their own special creativity to everything they work on!

It was very enjoyable talking with them and their teacher followed up with a note that the talk seemed to have really inspired them and she has had a substantial increase in interest in the subject from her students. It was lots of fun and I highly encourage other game professionals to take the time to work little trips like this into their schedules!

 

 

Gamestar Girl Reflects on Experience

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Posted Oct. 03, 2013

CategoryGames by Kids, Gaming Community, Guest Post

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One of the best things about working on a game for kids, is finding out how kids play the game. We talked with mustelidae, a Gamestar player who has been a strong part of our community for years. She’s a high school student and an aspiring game designer.

How did you get into Gamestar? 

           It began one night when I was nine years old. I remember that night clearly – my dad was driving me somewhere and it was raining hard. I don’t know what put the idea into my head, but as we were driving I decided that I wanted to make a video game.

           After that night, I embarked on an endless quest to find the means to make my dream come true. It wasn’t until several years later that I discovered Gamestar Mechanic through the STEM challenge. There’s something special about Gamestar Mechanic that I’ve always loved. Even though there are more powerful tools out there, the way that Gamestar Mechanic allows me to create in a very concrete, intuitive way is something that I haven’t found anywhere else.        

What do you like about being part of the community? 

           I really like being able to have other users review my games. It’s always interesting to see the opinions of people who don’t know me personally. I’ve found that their opinions are usually very honest and unbiased. These reviews have definitely helped me improve my game-design skills.  

           I also like seeing others’ games. I often get inspired after playing games by other users. Playing games can also broaden my perspective on what’s possible. Sometimes I get stuck within the confines of my usual game design patterns, but playing other users’ games can help me formulate new ideas.

Has Gamestar influenced any of your goals? 

           Gamestar Mechanic has definitely encouraged me to become a game designer. It was always a dream of mine, but it wasn’t until I found Gamestar Mechanic that I was able to actually try my hand at it. I found that I enjoyed it as much as I thought I would. Being able to participate in contests through Gamestar Mechanic has been great and has probably influenced my goals as well.

What would you change about Gamestar?

           There’s not a lot about Gamestar Mechanic that I would change. It’s a really great tool as is.

           However, I would love to have the ability to duplicate levels. My sister and I have both spent hours trying to create exact duplicates of environments that we wanted to use for several levels.

          I would also love to see some more features for creating quest or adventure games. Gamestar Mechanic has pretty much all of the action features that you could wish for, but it would be cool to see some more adventure features. Some of Gamestar’s newer sprites, such as the checkpoint and the backpack, work well for adventure games. I would love to see Gamestar Mechanic release more sprites and features along these lines. It would also be really cool if there was a feature that allowed users to incorporate some simple logic into their games. This would open up all sorts of possibilities for more complex games and stories.

Thanks so much, mustelidae, for sharing your feedback and experience!

Toon Academy: Minecraft

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Posted Oct. 01, 2013

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Partner Highlight

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Looking for something super fun to do with your students this month? Look no further. Our partner MinecraftEdu has teamed up with Toontastic  on a contest for kids to show what they are learning by playing Minecraft starting October 7th. There’s even created a Common Core-aligned Mission Plan and a Launchpad Toytivity to help teachers and parents work with kids to create their contest entries teaching others their favorite Minecraft activities.

Here’s how you enter:

  1. Create a Minecraft “How Toon” on Toontastic that teaches other kids your favorite Minecraft activity.
  2. Submit your cartoon to the contest between October 7th and October 17th, 2013.
  3. Share you How Toons with friends and family on Facebook and Twitter – each like, share, comment and tweet counts as a vote for your cartoon!

At the end of the contest, the cartoon with the most votes will win a “How Toons” Prize Package from Launchpad Toys and MinecraftEdu. For more information, check out the post over at Toontastic.

Playtesting from a Designer’s Perspective

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Posted Aug. 25, 2013

CategoryGames Research

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Recently I wrote about my experience focus testing games and what I’ve learned.  I thought it’d be interesting to get another point of view on the testing process from someone who designed the games. So I asked MKG, a designer on Gamestar Mechanic, to tell us a little bit about his experience when testing his designs with kids. Here’s what he had to say:


Hi, everyone! My name is Michael Gi (aka MKG) and I’ll be writing today’s blog post to share what I’ve learned and experienced when going into the classrooms. I’m a game designer at E-Line Media and I’ve worked primarily on Gamestar Mechanic, designing the quest, levels, sprites, challenges, and more. I have also had the opportunity to travel to many classes and see Gamestar Mechanic in action with the kids it was intended for. I’m pleased to say that every time it has been an amazing and gratifying experience.

As a game designer, I’m constantly trying to create new and unique levels, scaffold features and functionality, and find a balance for the players of a younger age group. This isn’t easy when you aren’t a middle school student yourself! By coming into classrooms I get to notice so many things that I never accounted for originally. I remember seeing firsthand how difficult it can be for a young, non-gamer to grasp WASD as movement, or how frustrating a timer can be when the solution itself is so clear.

However beyond just difficulty, it’s amazing to me how kids begin to see aspects of the game differently than how you may have originally intended. One eye-opening moment was when a young 10 year old stated, “I collected the Teleporter Sprite, and that’s my favorite so far!” likening the experience to collecting Pokémon (which was totally unintended). When I get the chance to ask students what they’d like to see changed or added in Gamestar Mechanic, their feedback is invaluable and often beyond what we even noted as a team. Our young generation is full of remarkable thinkers; being able to bring out this sort of critical thinking and creative problem solving to a game system is very powerful and rewarding.

The last thing I’d like to share is how engaged and excited these kids are. It’s extremely gratifying as a game developer to see the game I’ve spent so much time working and collaborating on be enjoyed so much by so many players. I’ve had kids ask for my gamer tag, e-mail address, and even autograph! But in the end nothing trumps the face of joy that lights up a student’s face when they’re busy playing, designing, and sharing.

SXSWedu Sessions

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Posted Aug. 19, 2013

CategoryEvents, Gaming Community

We’re excited to announce that E-Line Media has six sessions up for consideration for SXSWedu 2014! SXSWedu is an influential event for educators and technologists to have meaningful conversations and collaborations around teaching and learning. It’s super important for educators to have a presence at the conference and a hand in choosing what panels get selected. Visit the Panel Picker to vote for E-Line’s sessions:

  • Minecraft Your Classroom - Join us in this hands-on workshop and rotate through game-based activities designed to help you learn how to get started with Minecraft and how to use this game to deeply engage students in core subject areas.
  • The Competitive Advantage of Teacher Leadership - We’ll discuss how companies can create conditions for teacher leadership and how educators can partner with companies to get the greatest dividends for their students, their careers and their profession.
  • Game Based Cultural Storytelling - Gloria O’Neill, CEO of Upper One Games, the first indigenous-owned game company and Alan Gershenfeld, President of E-Line Media, will describe the inclusive development process, challenges and opportunities for taking cultural storytelling into the modern era through a unique commercial video game they are developing.
  • Game Based Civic Engagement & Global Youth - Join this panel of experts from USAID, NetHope and E-Line Media for a discussion of “Our City”, a Facebook game, piloted in Jordan, and designed to foster civic learning and real-world engagement.
  • Scaling Up Classroom Grown Games - This panel will bring together a group of teacher entrepreneurs and leading educational games publishers who teamed up to take games developed by and for a single classroom to students around the country. We will discuss the ups and downs, the benefits and challenges of forming an effective and equitable partnership between classroom teachers and edtech publishers.
  • Bridging the Teacher-Entrepreneur Divide - In this problem solving session, we will bring up the issues that exist between teachers and technologists and facilitate participants in creating a resource that both groups can use to learn more about each other and better communicate and collaborate.

Also, Gamestar’s general manager has teamed up with BrainPOP, Filament Games, and Learning Games Lab to present this boldly named panel: Designing Learning Games That Don’t Suck. And E-Line’s president Alan Gershenfeld along with Pearson will present on teaching and measuring higher order thinking in Mapping Games-Simulations to 21 Century Skills. So don’t forget to send a vote their way too!

Once you’re in the Panel Picker, create a username and password (it takes only a few seconds!) and click the “thumbs up” icon next to the sessions to cast your vote. You can vote until September 6. Thanks for participating and we’ll see you at SXSWedu!

Focus Testing Games for Learning

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Posted Jul. 30, 2013

CategoryGames Research, Gaming Education

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I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple weeks focus testing a new game. Testing with kids is a touchy subject; we need to be careful that we’re getting accurate feedback from kids, that kids understand what we are asking them, and that parents and schools also understand what and why we’re testing.  I thought I’d share some of my insights from my recent focus tests:

Handshakes – Kids who are participating in a playtest are doing a HUGE service for the company and game.  They are giving opinions and information that us grownups can only speculate on, no matter how well we remember elementary school. They should be treated like they are a super integral part of the development process, because they are! I’ve started giving kids formal handshakes before they start the testing, and another handshake to thank them when they are done.  This kind of “thank you for your time” gesture might seem a little odd to do with a 9 year old, but I’m finding that it helps the kids understand how important they are to the design process, and then they really step up to give great feedback.

Introductions – I’ve started asking kids who they are, what they like to do in and out of school, and how they describe their own personality before we start the testing.  Not only is this helping make kids feel comfortable during the session, but it also lets me think about who they are as gamers before they start playing. A kid who loves shooters might give different feedback than a kid who loves playing Angry Birds on a cellphone.  Once the kids talk about who they are, sometimes they start giving feedback through that lens too, saying things like, “Well, since I love sports, I like scoring points in the game.”

Repeating – When I taught ESL in schools, I tried my best not to repeat what my students said, letting the kids speak for themselves.  When filming a focus testing session, however, I find that repeating their feedback really helps.  Kids can get really into playing a game and they might start speaking to the game and not to the tester.  If I repeat what they said for confirmation, I have the benefit of hearing the kid’s ideas clearly when I review the footage.  Ideally, you’d have multiple people testing with excellent cameras and mics.  But, realistically, it might just be you and your camera phone.

Groups – I’ve mostly been conducting focus interviews one on one.  Having a kid answer questions individually is good because there is no confirmation bias; they say what they are thinking without being influenced by their peers. However, I’ve also tested in pairs to see how kids play a single-player game together (which happens all the time in the real world!), and in a large group to see how a bunch of kids in a classroom environment would react to the game.  I’ve gotten useful and different information from testing in each of these settings.

Another note, if you’re ever testing games for learning, check out the book Game Usability first. It’s full of tips and proven methods!

The Hungercraft Experience

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Posted Jul. 16, 2013

CategoryGaming Education

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In light of E-Line Media’s new partnership with MinecraftEDU we’ve been playing a lot of Minecraft in the office.  Last week E-Line’s entire development team in Seattle played Joel Levin’s (@MinecraftTeachr) mod called Hungercraft.  In Hungercraft, players explore the world of the Hunger Games in a setting 75 years before Katniss’ rise to fame.  Each person enters the Minecraft mod as either a member of the oppressive Capitol or a lowly coal miner of District 12.  The only place the two groups in the game can meet is the trading room, where they can choose to trade coal for food.  The Capitol needs coal to make food, and District 12 has no access to food, but plenty of coal. There are no right or wrong ways to solve the conflict in Hungercraft; teams can cooperate, orchestrate an uprising, battle, steal, etc.

We weren’t the only group to try out Hungercraft.  This article in the Huffington Post’s Blog describes the experience of Hungercraft with two groups of high schoolers at Brooklyn Public Library.  For these high schoolers, Hungercraft started out civil, with each side trading their goods.  But when an instigator from District 12 broke into the Capitol, conflict was unavoidable.  The teens wrote about the experience:

“We viewed this event as an opportunity to open our minds. Sure it was very fun and entertaining, but the teens from both groups also went away realizing the need for better communication and delegates, increasing the significance of the United Nations. These revelations all occurred within the walls of the Brooklyn Public Library. Who said video games aren’t educational?”

At E-Line, our teams spent their time finding loopholes and resources on their own sides before interacting at all. Once District 12 had scrounged up their own food without asking the Capitol, they prepared for attack.  It’s good to know resourcefulness and independence are prevalent qualities at E-Line!