Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

All posts in the “Partner Highlight” Category

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.

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.

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!

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.