Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

All posts in the “Challenges and Contests” Category

For Kids By Kids


Posted Apr. 27, 2012

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Games by Kids


What’s better than kids making video games? Kids making opportunities for other kids to make video games!

You may have read earlier that this year we’ve partnered with Global Kids’ Online Leadership Program. The students at OLP are creating two challenges in Gamestar Mechanic as part of our series of Impact Challenges sponsored by the AMD Foundation.   Well, the first challenge, about ending war, has been up and running since March, and closed with more than 700 entries!  Recently, Global Kids spoke about their challenges at the 2012 Annual Youth Conference.  Below is a video of some OLP kids explaining their projects:

We are so proud to be part of this project. Youth creating contests for other youth in the game design for impact space is the kind of activity that will spur youth participation, leadership, and creativity. Not to mention, bring us a step closer to making the world a better place.

We’ll continue to work with Global Kids on releasing their second challenge in Gamestar, and judging both of the contests.

Games in the Classroom: Education Challenge Grant


Posted Mar. 07, 2012

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Gaming Community


Minecraft teacher and his students atop a structure they built

Here’s a quick post about a super grant from Entertainment Software Association (ESA) for teachers to submit lesson plans, submissions and other proposals that incorporate existing video games into school curricula.  So this is not a challenge to make your own game (for that, see the STEM Challenge), but a challenge to create an innovative plan to use existing games in the classroom.

There are a ton of games out there that were created for entertainment purposes but have been used in the classroom.  One classic example is Portal, a physics shooter from Valve that’s been used in high schools and college physics classes.  Another example is the game Civilization III, which has changed the minds of high school students from thinking that social studies is the “most boring subject” to the most interesting.

Tons of other games can be used in the classroom (check out stories on Little Big Planet 2, Minecraft, or World of Warcraft).  And, of course, this competition also encourages lesson plans on existing educational games like Gamestar Mechanic!

Check out information and contest rules here.  You could win big money and even bigger recognition as an innovative and creative educator.




Be a Healthivore: Make Healthy Living Games


Posted Feb. 10, 2012

CategoryChallenges and Contests



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


Posted Feb. 08, 2012

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events, Games by Kids



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

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

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:

Design Challenges to Focus Student Effort


Posted Nov. 23, 2011

CategoryChallenges and Contests


Ever since we tested the earliest versions of Gamestar Mechanic, we’ve noticed that young designers create better games when they’ve got something to focus on.  Turn a student loose in the Gamestar Workshop with a full set of sprites and they’re likely to experiment and explore, but they’re also likely to hit a block where they aren’t sure what to do next.  As writing teachers have known forever, it is good to give students a prompt.

Right now, there are several national game design challenges open for entry, and they can be a great way to focus your students’ efforts – and there are some great prizes available for you as well as the student.  The National STEM Video Game Challenge opened on November 16, 2011 and runs through March 12, 2012 .  Although the STEM Challenge sounds like you have to make learning games, the theory behind the challenge is that making any game demands STEM-related skills.  Your students should make a fun game, first and foremost.  The Challenge Youth Prize is open to students in grades 5 – 12, but there is an adult prize too if you want to try your hand!  For more information, check out

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards have been around for 88 years, giving talented young artists and writers recognition for their work and giving them an annual event on which to focus their work.  This will be the third year that the Awards have recognized Game Design as a category for art submissions, and it’s been great seeing games get some respect as an expressive medium.  The Awards are a big deal — the winners get to walk across the stage at Carnegie Hall to accept their awards, and many past honorees still prize their award pins.  The Art and Writing Awards deadlines vary by category and region, but video game submissions must be submitted or postmarked by January 9th.  See for more specifics.

Both the Challenge and the Awards accept entries made in Gamestar Mechanic as well as other tools.  In fact, students can even submit game designs on paper, as long as they’re clear about how their designs would play and what the game would be like.  Whether they’re working on paper, in Gamestar, or coding in Actionscript by hand, we think design challenges are a great goal for students to work toward.

STEM Challenge Opens Today


Posted Nov. 16, 2011

CategoryChallenges and Contests


The National STEM Video Game Challenge opens TODAY!!! This challenge is inspired by President Obama’s Educate to Innovate Campaign, with a goal to motivate kids to take an interest in STEM learning by doing something they’re already passionate about – playing and making video games.

This year’s competition opens today, Nov 16, 2011, and closes March 12, 2012.  It features four challenge entry categories: middle school, high school, collegiate, and EDUCATORS.  That means that all you teachers have the opportunity not only to help your students design games for the challenge, but to enter your own designs as well! Make sure to check out the STEM challenge site for information on each challenge category, the game design platforms available, and prizes.

Want some inspiration? Watch the video of last year’s middle school winners:

I helped in the judging of the last year’s middle school level entries, and I was blown away by the creativity and skill shown in many of the hundreds of entries submitted.  This year, I’m sure, the competition will be even bigger and the games even more inspiring.  Can’t wait!