Sometimes the hardest part about teaching game design workshops is simply getting the participants to focus. When kids (or adults!) get started designing games, it’s often tricky to pull their attention back to the group for a discussion, reflection session, or to move on to the next activity. Sometimes it’s also hard to get participants motivated to work with people they don’t know, or on a project that doesn’t immediately seem intriguing. Well, I think we found the solution to those issues: have kids teach kids.
We are in the middle of a workshop series around the National STEM Video Game Challenge. This past weekend I attended a workshop at the American Museum of Natural History here in NYC. While I’m usually the one leading these workshops, this time the workshop series is being lead by a group of awesome high schoolers from Global Kids. I worked with the Global Kids before, so I knew they were great, but I hadn’t seen them in the role of teacher. Our participants this past weekend were mostly middle and elementary school kids and a few parents. Watching the kids respond to their high school-aged teachers was really inspiring; they were curious, engaged and ready to participate. There’s something about kids learning from other kids who are just a few years older that makes the participants feel connected to the content – they actually see in front of them the opportunity for themselves to grow into game design experts. They know it’s possible for kids to be awesome game designers and digital leaders because there is proof right there in their teachers.
Another key piece of the puzzle were the few scattered parents in the workshop. These parents were not pro gamers and so had to defer to the Global Kids for expert advice. Watching adults be the students, and the students be the teachers was empowering for all parties. Kids saw they could teach their parents, parents saw potential for their kids to be youth leaders, and youth leaders validated their expertise by successfully engaging and teaching both parents and kids.
Did I mention this was a six hour workshop? Global Kids kept the energy high, the kids learning, and the atmosphere controlled the entire time. Hats off to kids teaching kids!
Recently, the Gamestar team added two World Badges to the Gamestar Workshop. The Apprentice Badge is for learners to prove they are ready to start on their pathway to being game designers. The Mentor Badge is for educators to demonstrate they can effectively lead young game designers on their pathways.
While earning the Apprentice Badge is something that Gamestar players can do by themselves, taking your class through the badge together can be a fun and effective learning experience.
So, are your students ready to identify as game design apprentices? This lesson plan walks you through the steps you need to have your students earn the Apprentice Badge as a class activity. This badge is portable (part of Mozilla’s Open Badge movement), so you can now show your commitment to others in the Gamestar Mechanic community, AND to fellow designers around the world.
The Apprentice Badge, as well as other badges on the Open Badge system, are representations of learning that may not be normally recognized. We believe that when kids make games and go through the game design process, they deserve to be recognized for their hard work and the knowledge they gained.
Today I’m here to tell you about something new and awesome: Playforce.
Playforce is a new online community built for and by players, parents and educators to discover and share learning experiences in games. We partnered with our friends at Institute of Play to develop this resource, and we’d like to invite you to give it a try at beta.playforce.org.
Here’s how it works:
Players join Playforce to enter their perspectives on their favorite games. Game perspectives are all player-generated, and moderated by a user community. Which means they don’t focus on what experts think is good about game play, but rather on what players know, based on their own collective experience. By putting the experience of players front and center, Playforce lets educators and parents know exactly what to expect from the games they use.
Before they enter their perspectives, Playforce trains players to develop the critical tools to articulate the learning that occurs in the games they love to play, using a language which professionals and other adults can understand… a language which connects to traditional academic standards.
Ultimately, Playforce will provide a searchable database of games with learning potential that allows users to explore games related to specific learning content, academic standards or twenty-first century skills. For anyone looking to use games to achieve specific learning goals, we hope this site will provide an indispensable resource.
Playforce is still in beta, but please stop by and visit beta.playforce.org. Feel free to browse the games, enter a perspective yourself, or tell your students and friends. We need your help to make this site a community for anyone interested in games and learning.
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!
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.
You might recognize Mike from as one of the teachers whose lesson plan is featured on our teacher site. In his posts about his class’ project, Mike includes many more lessons and worksheets that he’s used with his students. The resources on his site link to activities in Gamestar, worksheets and journal prompts on games and ecosystems, and even a Glogster assignment on the Scientific method.
One of my favorite parts of Mike’s project is that he builds off of and links to the game design project site by Kevin Hodgson (featured in the blog previously). This is a super example of teachers sharing knowledge around game design and iterating and customization each other’s ideas. I know not every teacher is a gamer or game designer, but it’s interactions like these that make me excited about the prospect of all different kinds of teachers sharing knowledge to make game design work in their classrooms.
The GSM Experience is a quick and easy game, and, while it’s very funny, it touches on some important issues in the game design classroom. Mr. Gramlich starts by tackling the problems of using Gamestar in schools:
Level 1 – get over technology hurdles
Level 2 – Try with all your might to get kids to read the instructions in games!
Level 3 – Watch kids make games that are supposedly “challenging,” but in essence provide a whole mess of enemies, but no real challenge or fun gameplay.
Level 4 – Play your kids’ games that are chalk full of sprites. A crowded game doesn’t necessarily mean the “best game ever!”
Level 5 – After enduring the struggles of setting up technology, going over game protocol, and learning how to design games that don’t just rely on tons of enemy sprites, Mr. Gramlich gets to the very best part of using Gamestar in the classroom: playing awesome games that the students make.
This playable experience shows that with perseverance, teachers and kids really can get past the initial issues of using game design in the classroom to get to something that, in Mr. Gramlich’s words, “makes all the trouble worth it!”
Sadly and persistently, the number of women in technology fields is outstandingly low. Even though women make up half the workforce, they hold less than 25% of all STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)-related jobs.
This recent spotlight on the Digital Media and Learning site features the Techbridge, an after school and summer program, that promotes girls’ interest in STEM. One important way that Techbridge fosters this interest is by facilitating connections between the girls and role models and mentors. The DML spotlight brings up two main points about how to engage girls and women in STEM: include mentors and use messaging geared toward women. Creating a job position, or camp or school application that stresses competition and an “every man for himself” attitude is a turn off for women, even those who are already adept in STEM skills and qualified for the position. The key to get more and girls working in STEM? Emphasize opportunities for mentorship and learning, the article says.
An article on MindShift takes exception to the idea that the problem of so few women in STEM can be changed by targeting a “women’s interests.” Here, the author stresses that it all boils down to our understanding “that it’s not about a fixed set of abilities, but about what can be learned.” If girls believe that intellectual ability can be expanded, they are more willing to approach (and excel) in STEM subjects than if they believe that intellectual skills are a gift.
So what about girls and Gamestar? The truth is, we don’t have information about how many of our active Gamestar users are girls. When kids make their accounts they don’t state if they are male or female. While some usernames might give away that the user is a girl (vanessa123, or babygirl7 for example), even then we can’t be sure because your username can be whatever you want. I’m curious if this cover of anonymity gives girls the freedom to engage in a tech-y platform without worrying about stigma or competition. Maybe? I do know that at least one Gamestar “power user” and contest winner is a girl, but I doubt her many fans in Game Alley know that!
Kevin Hodgson is a teacher in western Massachusetts (my home!) who uses game design in his sixth grade classroom. Kevin has done a lot of work with game design in general and Gamestar specifically. In fact, we’ve showcased one of his lessons as an example lesson on our teacher site.
Now Kevin has set up a site of his own documenting his classes use of Gamestar Mechanic for a science video game project. This site is simple, thorough, and packed with games and videos about his students’ work. Kevin says:
My hope is that my own sharing out of our science-based video game design project will inspire you to consider doing the same for your students, moving them from the role of “player” into the role of “creator.”
This site takes you through the process from brainstorming to collaborative design to game reviews. He even speaks to using game design as a catalyst for reluctant writers.
I’m super impressed with this site and I hope it inspires other teachers to present their work in such an exciting and accessible way. This is something that both student and teacher should be proud of.
It’s always great to hear stories about families playing games (and playing Gamestar) together. Our friends over at Science Buddies keep a blog where parents sometimes post on their adventures in science with their kids. This week, a mom postedabout her sons and their growing interest in game design. The family is tackling the STEM challenge together, exploring tools like Scratch, GameMaker, and Gamestar Mechanic!
Here’s an excerpt about the kids’ experience with Gamestar:
I logged both of my kids in at Gamestar Mechanic one evening, just to see how they would respond to the interface—and to see if it really was as cool as it seemed like it might be. They sat side by side at different computers, each going through the story, and the excitement and enthusiasm was palpable. They loved it! As I moved around doing other things, I was hearing talk about “platform” games and “top down” games and “oh, I’m going to change the gravity this time!”
The whole post is very well-written and links to a number of resources. Check it out here.