Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

All posts in the “Gaming Community” Category

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.

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!

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!

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: 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!

Partner Highlight: The Scholastic Awards

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Posted Mar. 27, 2013

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Gaming Community, Partner Highlight

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Gamestar Mechanic has had the good fortune to work with the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards since our early days in Beta phase. The Scholastic Awards is a 90 year-old program begun by the founder of Scholastic, Inc. that recognizes talented young artists and writers and provides them with opportunities for recognition, exhibition and awards.  We’re happy to say that every year a few of our Gamestar Mechanic users are winners in this impressive program!

Scott Larner

We caught up with Scott Larner, the Senior Manager of National Programs at the Scholastic Awards – and an avid game player! – and asked him to share his thoughts about game design, creativity and education.

Thanks, Scott for taking time to talk to us and to share your thoughts with our teacher community! We would love to hear more about why the Scholastic Awards launched a category for video game design and how you’ve seen this category grow over the past couple of years. 

Scott:  The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards has always sought to respond and recognize the creativity of middle and high school students – in whatever form it takes. The photography category was introduced in the 1940s; in the early 2000s The Scholastic Awards began to honor students for computer-generated art. Like these earlier categories, Video Game Design was added to respond to an evolution of the way young artists were choosing to express themselves. We couldn’t afford to look away from the rich and eclectic work being done by young people designing games.

The growth of the category has truly been astounding. In 2010, the first year we offered the category, we received a few hundred submissions. This year that number had grown to over 1,300 submissions.  This reflects a growth in the number of schools that offer video game design classes; hard work on the part of The Scholastic Awards staff in promoting the category; and the overwhelming number of young thinkers who were already designing games on their own who just needed an outlet to share their work. We expect the category to continue this explosive growth in the future and we look forward sharing the work of young game designers.  But even more importantly, we look forward to playing their fantastic games!

How do you see video game design relating to other areas of the Scholastic Awards? And do you see themes across categories?

Scott:  Teenagers are at a point in their lives when they are trying to figure out who they are and what they want from life, so naturally a lot of teenage art and writing explores themes of identity.  The Video Game category is no different. In a way, the video game category adds an interesting depth to this exploration of self. Designers build characters for players to inhabit, and place those characters in situations and worlds built from their imaginations. The experience of playing through a game can give the player unparalleled access to the idiosyncrasies of the designer’s inner-world. In the best games, you don’t just absorb the artist’s visions, you participate in them firsthand.

With 90 years of experience behind your program, what do you think are the main benefits of creative competition?

Scott:  The main benefit of The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards has been and will continue to be the validation from an impartial eye, from someone who is not your teacher, a family member, or a friend, from a professional who is evaluating your work on its own merit. Winning a Scholastic Award is an empowering moment. Artists like John Baldessari, Richard Avedon and Tom Otterness have all said that the Scholastic Awards served as a jumping-off point for their careers, as a moment when they came to the realization that they had the talent to pursue their creative passion, not merely as a pastime, but as a calling.

The scholarships, publication and exhibition opportunities, and ceremonies are all important parts of our program, and add a tremendous value to winning a Scholastic Art & Writing Award, but we find that the students who get the most out of The Awards are naturally drawn to writing, drawing, designing video games, and so on. It’s these students who embrace the recognition and really build on it.

We know you’re also a writer, Scott, so from your own perspective, can you talk a bit about how games are a powerful medium for creative writers?

Scott:  Because a person can play a video game at their own pace, it gives the writer an opportunity to explore details and add digressions that may not work in conventional prose. Whether it’s a message scratched into a wall or a dusty tome that the player can open and peruse, video games deliver story details in many new and interesting ways. Modern role-playing games like Mass Effect and the Elder Scrolls series have taken great advantage of this, providing the player with hundreds of pages of material which helps add flavor and fills out the history of their fictional worlds.

Lastly, how can teachers get their students involved in the Scholastic Awards?

Scott:  The most important thing that teachers can do is encourage creative students in their classes to submit to The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. We accept submissions starting in the middle of September at www.artandwriting.org. Teachers and students can also like us on Facebook to keep up with Scholastic Awards’ news. Email info@artandwriting.org for more information or to request posters and other promotional materials.

Thanks again, Scott! To learn more about the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, please visit www.artandwriting.org.

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!

Awesome Teacher Blog

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Posted Mar. 04, 2013

CategoryGaming Community, Gaming Education

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Sometimes I stumble upon an awesome teacher blog that I can’t resist sharing.  From the Desk of Mr. Walters is the blog of a teacher/designer/gamer who shares many insights about his work with gaming, gamification, and game-based learning in the classroom.  In this particular post, Mr. Walters shares a lesson plan on designing story games in Gamestar Mechanic.  My favorite quote from this post is:

“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 Tellers Art. This is where Liberal Arts meets STEM.”

Mr. Walters totally gets it! Enjoy his blog.