Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

All posts in the “Events” Category

Game of Sprites – An epic adventure in STEAM learning.

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Posted Dec. 02, 2016

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events, Gaming Education

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 “Greetings, valiant Mechanics! Are you ready to embark on a grand adventure? Then prepare yourselves for Game of Sprites!” (GSM News, Nov. 16, 2016)

The Holidays are upon us! The students are restless… It’s time for a new challenge! Starting November 18th, the awesome team at Gamestar Mechanic began releasing a series of brand-new Challenges for your students to play through. These challenges will not only allow your students to unlock new sprites and gear but also provide them with a great lead up to a new Contest that will task them with creating their own games using these newly-released sprites! This challenge is awesome for lessons in game design, plot, character development, user-centric design, and creative writing, among other things.

As mentioned in earlier posts, designing a balanced game, one with flow, involves system-based thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, art, storytelling, and digital media literacy. It involves “Systems-Thinking” and “User-Centered Design”. 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-Teller’s Art. This is where Liberal Arts meet STEM. This is what STEAM is all about! This is why those of us who were children of the 90′s remember and even revisit a great old game, much as though it were a great piece of literature we had read in childhood. I’m not trying to blaspheme here. Please do not attack me for putting Cloud and Frodo in the same basket, but I would argue that they might just belong together.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that the team at Gamestar clearly had a lot of fun putting these challenges together. They are well-designed games in which students will have the opportunity to earn never-before-seen sprites that also contain a lot of humor. I may be getting my geek on a little too much, but I seriously had some “laugh-out-loud” moments as I played through the two challenges that have been released so far. I’m seriously stoked for Episode III to be released today!

As this is the Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog and I am a teacher, I think in lesson plans. So without further ado, here is a sample lesson plan for you! (I am so a poet and totally know it!)

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STEM Video Game Challenge: A Quick Start Guide

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Posted Nov. 25, 2015

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events

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As any experienced teacher knows, November and December are often months packed with activity, anticipation, and a dash of pure insanity. Then, after going home to spend time with family, we arrive back to school in January for  the midwinter blues. Let’s develop a plan to beat those blues right now by looking forward to the National STEM Video Game Challenge.

The fifth cycle of the National STEM Video Game Challenge, launching in 2016, opens on March 15th, and you can begin preparing your students any time. Whether you’re teaching a full on Computer Science course, like myself; using computer science in your Art, Math, Science, or Technology class; or conducting a STEM or STEAM focused after-school program, the National STEM Video Game Challenge is a good way to motivate your students to kick it up a notch.

Now, I understand that you may have little experience with the topic of game design or perhaps you just aren’t prepared to write a curriculum on the topic over your Holiday Break. So, in the Holiday Spirit, I’ve decided to provide you, my fellow teacher, with a “quick start guide”.

Step 1: Video Game Design 101

Let’s talk about game design. Your students may have extensive experience with Game Development via various popular programming environments, but the fine art of game design focuses on the following powerful 21st century concepts, including but not limited to:

Addison Joins the League

  • Designing systems
  • Designing for end-users
  • Creative problem-solving

These concepts are covered in more detail in the post, Designing Fun: There’s more to game design than programming. So, how do we get our students primed and ready to design a really coherent, engaging, and creative game for the National STEM Video Game Challenge? Here are some of my suggestions for class activities to get students thinking like game designers.

Addison Joins the League & the Apprenticeship Badge

Addison Joins the League, the introductory quest of Gamestar mechanic, is all about introducing students to the five elements of game design and how they work together as a system to create a satisfying and engaging end-user experience.

The Apprenticeship Badge, which can be earned in the Gamestar Mechanic workshop, provides a more in-depth study of what goes wrong in the game design process and how to solve those problems, again to improve the overall system and make better end-user experience.

Additional resources and activities.

If you’re looking for a more scaffolded class-wide cooperative learning experience, I highly recommend the materials at the Gamestar Mechanic learning guide, which provides a wealth of lesson plans and curriculum resources. There’s something here for just about everyone, so check it out.

Gamekit Beta

Not able to be online every day? Add in Gamekit Beta, which is like “Gamestar Mechanic unplugged”. There you’ll find activities that focus on concepts such as the balance of luck and strategy to create fun.

Step 2: Design your entries

Gamestar Mechanic typically has a challenge open right within the workshop that includes a special STEM Challenge template or a way for students to choose an existing game from their Workshop. Now, let’s look at some ways to set your students’ STEM challenge games apart from the rest.

Serious Game design

You may or may not be aware of the growing serious games movement. “A serious game or applied game is a game designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment. The serious adjective is generally prepended to refer to products used by industries like defense, education, scientific exploration, health care, emergency management, city planning, engineering, religion, and politics” (Wikipedia).

Dr. Jane Mcgonigal talked at length about this in her famous 2010 TED Talk, Gaming can make a better world.  Today’s kids are often highly motivated to embrace making a positive difference in all kinds of social action and public service projects.

A good way to get some great content out of your students for the STEM challenge is to get them thinking of how they can make a game that is not only fun to play but also helping the player learn something valuable and even world changing. Here are some serious games made in Gamestar Mechanic as examples:

Finally, here are some lessons from Scholastic to help you level up your students’ game content.

Details details details.

Now that your students have learned the basics about how games use goals, rules, mechanics, components, and space in a balanced way to create flow, it’s time to give them one more trick to suck players (and the judges) in. This is the part that puts the STEAM in STEM. It’s time to talk about story.

Your students have likely been focusing on building their levels up to this point. Now it’s time to visit the game and level settings screens and add some context to this adventure. The game and level intro and win messages are a great place to begin to build a unifying story. Use the game intro and win messages to set up the context of your game in terms of exposition and resolution. What is the setting? Who is your main character? What is going on? This involves the player in the story of the game and gives them a reason to care. Then, as the story unfolds, remind students to use the level intro and win messages to cue each wrinkle in the larger narrative of the game. Each level should build on the unifying theme of the story, including finishing touches, like background & soundtrack. Students should be encouraged to tell the story with the 5 Elements – Don’t lose players by telling a story in cut screens that has nothing to do with the game they’re actually playing. The space, components, mechanics, goals, and rules should fit the story or the story should fit the space, components, mechanics, goals, & rules.

To give the game an epic scope, students can include elements like

  • A boss or two (Use a Boss sprite or Just beef up a sprite with the wrench tool)
  • Text message blocks to help unfold the story (get these from the message box challenge)
  • One or more levels that have an epic scope (aka: Multiple Screen Scrolling)

Step 3: Iteration Feedback Loop

The iteration feedback loop is a key part of the Game design process. In this case, it really helps to have a convenient way for your students to play each other’s games and provide feedback. I have my students post a copy of their game to Edmodo. You could use Google Classroom, Moodle, MyBigCampus, or whatever social / LMS space you have. Then students can go play their classmates’ games and give feedback in Game Alley. Make this an opening / warm-up activity or a closure activity each day, and each day focus on a specific aspect of the design. For example, “play a classmate’s game today and give him or her feedback on how the game space contributed to or detracted from the overall balance of the game”.

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We would love to hear about your experiences. Comment below with your successes, frustrations, questions, and any great ides you would like to share. Let’s make some great games this coming spring.

DFTBA

 

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!

E-Line at ISTE

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Posted Jul. 01, 2013

CategoryEvents

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Kerri Schlottman-Bright, our business and partnership development superstar, spent last week with our team at ISTE. Here’s her recap:

A little bit of ISTE instruction

We’ve just returned from a whirlwind three days in San Antonio, where we attended the annual ISTE conference, an exciting event where we’re able to connect with Gamestar Mechanic teachers and other educators from around the world who are interested in doing game design in the classroom. This year, game-based learning was a hot topic, thanks to an incredible keynote given by game designer/author Jane McGonigalwho touted the benefits of games for learning. Over the course of three days, we talked to well over 1,000 teachers who are fired up about using games to engage, educate and empower youth!

In addition to presenting Gamestar Mechanic in the massive trade show that accompanies ISTE, our company E-Line Media also very excitedly announced two new partnerships – with HISTORIA and with MinecraftEdu. Both of these amazing game-based resources were created by teachers for teachers! You can check out their websites for more information on how to bring them to your classroom. For you Gamestar Mechanic lovers, you’ll be happy to know we also announced two extensions to the Gamestar Mechanic platform – one for younger youth and one for high school youth, meaning that starting 2014, Gamestar Mechanic will be available for grades 1-12! Keep checking back here for news on those releases and more, or follow us on Twitter at @GamestarMech.

FHI Game Jam

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Posted Jun. 07, 2013

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events, Games by Kids

I recently wrote about the interscholastic program and competition we run in partnership with FHI 360.  In a nutshell, we train 9 NYC public middle schools to use Gamestar Mechanic, support their teachers, visit their classrooms, and organize a final competition where kids represent their school in a Game Jam.  Well, that Game Jam happened on Tuesday of this week and it was AWESOME!

In the four weeks leading up to the Game Jam, teachers divided their classes into groups of 2-4 and each group made a game in Gamestar.  The games could be about whatever they wanted, though, looking back, I think I’ll add some more parameters to this design challenge to keep the games more focused.  Then the Gamestar Mechanic team played and gave feedback on each and every game.  The groups had one week to iterate on their designs before resubmitting them to the Gamestar team.  We picked one winning group from each classroom and invited them to compete in the game jam.

On Tuesday, 11 groups showed up to the beautiful offices of FHI 360 in Union Square, NYC.  They were tasked with designing a single-level game that provided at least one difficult choice for the player in just one hour.  As they designed, the excitement and nervousness in the room was palpable.  And the kids made superb games! After the hour was up, Brian (General Manager of Gamestar Mechanic) and Eddie (Producer at Large Animal Games) judged the entries while the kids played each other’s games to assess their competitors.  Finally, winners were announced.

1st Place: Prison of the Mind by FlyingForever, Ventus14, W.Carter

2nd Place: Misguided City Boy by Yungdeion, Anthony17, Roberto27

Congratulations to FDA III for taking home second place prize, and MS244 for taking home the win!

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!

Games for Change Workshop

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Posted Dec. 11, 2012

CategoryEvents, Gaming Community

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Recently Games for Change posted the video of the workshop that Brian Alspach and I gave at the 9th Annual Games for Change Festival. This workshop was particularly fun because we were in a space where the audience was full of gamers and teachers who had tons of questions and insight on teaching game design to kids.

In this video you’ll see our presentation on what makes up a game, what makes good game design, and how to design with Gamestar Mechanic. Also, make sure to check this out if you are an ultimate frisbee or competitive rock-paper-scissors fan!

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.

Gamestar at SXSW

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Posted Feb. 24, 2012

CategoryEvents

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SXSW Logo

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!