Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

SXSWedu Sessions

Author

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!

Focus Testing Games for Learning

Author

Posted Jul. 30, 2013

CategoryGames Research, Gaming Education

Tagged

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple weeks focus testing a new game. Testing with kids is a touchy subject; we need to be careful that we’re getting accurate feedback from kids, that kids understand what we are asking them, and that parents and schools also understand what and why we’re testing.  I thought I’d share some of my insights from my recent focus tests:

Handshakes – Kids who are participating in a playtest are doing a HUGE service for the company and game.  They are giving opinions and information that us grownups can only speculate on, no matter how well we remember elementary school. They should be treated like they are a super integral part of the development process, because they are! I’ve started giving kids formal handshakes before they start the testing, and another handshake to thank them when they are done.  This kind of “thank you for your time” gesture might seem a little odd to do with a 9 year old, but I’m finding that it helps the kids understand how important they are to the design process, and then they really step up to give great feedback.

Introductions – I’ve started asking kids who they are, what they like to do in and out of school, and how they describe their own personality before we start the testing.  Not only is this helping make kids feel comfortable during the session, but it also lets me think about who they are as gamers before they start playing. A kid who loves shooters might give different feedback than a kid who loves playing Angry Birds on a cellphone.  Once the kids talk about who they are, sometimes they start giving feedback through that lens too, saying things like, “Well, since I love sports, I like scoring points in the game.”

Repeating – When I taught ESL in schools, I tried my best not to repeat what my students said, letting the kids speak for themselves.  When filming a focus testing session, however, I find that repeating their feedback really helps.  Kids can get really into playing a game and they might start speaking to the game and not to the tester.  If I repeat what they said for confirmation, I have the benefit of hearing the kid’s ideas clearly when I review the footage.  Ideally, you’d have multiple people testing with excellent cameras and mics.  But, realistically, it might just be you and your camera phone.

Groups – I’ve mostly been conducting focus interviews one on one.  Having a kid answer questions individually is good because there is no confirmation bias; they say what they are thinking without being influenced by their peers. However, I’ve also tested in pairs to see how kids play a single-player game together (which happens all the time in the real world!), and in a large group to see how a bunch of kids in a classroom environment would react to the game.  I’ve gotten useful and different information from testing in each of these settings.

Another note, if you’re ever testing games for learning, check out the book Game Usability first. It’s full of tips and proven methods!

The Hungercraft Experience

Author

Posted Jul. 16, 2013

CategoryGaming Education

Tagged

 

In light of E-Line Media’s new partnership with MinecraftEDU we’ve been playing a lot of Minecraft in the office.  Last week E-Line’s entire development team in Seattle played Joel Levin’s (@MinecraftTeachr) mod called Hungercraft.  In Hungercraft, players explore the world of the Hunger Games in a setting 75 years before Katniss’ rise to fame.  Each person enters the Minecraft mod as either a member of the oppressive Capitol or a lowly coal miner of District 12.  The only place the two groups in the game can meet is the trading room, where they can choose to trade coal for food.  The Capitol needs coal to make food, and District 12 has no access to food, but plenty of coal. There are no right or wrong ways to solve the conflict in Hungercraft; teams can cooperate, orchestrate an uprising, battle, steal, etc.

We weren’t the only group to try out Hungercraft.  This article in the Huffington Post’s Blog describes the experience of Hungercraft with two groups of high schoolers at Brooklyn Public Library.  For these high schoolers, Hungercraft started out civil, with each side trading their goods.  But when an instigator from District 12 broke into the Capitol, conflict was unavoidable.  The teens wrote about the experience:

“We viewed this event as an opportunity to open our minds. Sure it was very fun and entertaining, but the teens from both groups also went away realizing the need for better communication and delegates, increasing the significance of the United Nations. These revelations all occurred within the walls of the Brooklyn Public Library. Who said video games aren’t educational?”

At E-Line, our teams spent their time finding loopholes and resources on their own sides before interacting at all. Once District 12 had scrounged up their own food without asking the Capitol, they prepared for attack.  It’s good to know resourcefulness and independence are prevalent qualities at E-Line!

E-Line at ISTE

Author

Posted Jul. 01, 2013

CategoryEvents

Tagged

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

Author

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!

Partner Highlight: FHI 360

Author

Posted Apr. 25, 2013

CategoryGaming Community, Partner Highlight

Tagged

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: Dara Ross

Author

Posted Apr. 22, 2013

CategoryGaming Education

Tagged

For the past 7 months I’ve been teaching game design classes once a week at Brooklyn International High School.  This school has such a positive vibe with enthusiastic students and teachers who are truly flexible and willing to take risks.  Dara Ross, a humanities teacher I’ve worked with at BIHS, has done many great projects with her students including working with Gamestar Mechanic.  I asked her to tell us a little bit about her experience teaching with Gamestar.  Here’s Dara:

Dara Ross

I teach 9th and 10th grade Humanities at the Brooklyn International High School. All of my students are recently arrived immigrants who are learning English. They have all been in the country for four years or less. My classroom is very diverse. I teach students from countries such as Yemen, Haiti, Tibet, Uzbekistan, China and Bangladesh. I teach students who don’t speak any English. In my classroom, I have students who love video games and who played fervently in their home countries as well as students who did not play any games in their home countries. I have a few students who had limited access to technology in their home countries and some students who never even used a computer before coming to New York City. Gamestar Mechanic has been an effective tool for teaching all of my learners how to problem-solve and how to think like a real game designer.

In my classroom I use Gamestar Mechanic as an end of unit assessment where students can create a game that shows their mastery of the content that I have taught. If we read Ancient Greece myths or Macbeth, then students can create a game that explores theme, characterization or plot structures. It’s also a great tool for storytelling and literacy. I have been surprised at how effective Gamestar Mechanic is at motivating students to revise and to make multiple iterations of their games. I have been also very happy at how the students so willingly and completely incorporate feedback into their game revisions. Now, when we are writing essays I can help them see how the process of revising a game is similar to the process of writing.

BIHS students

One thing that I find insanely challenging about Gamestar Mechanic is playing all of the wonderful games that my students create. I grew up playing Pitfall on Atari 2600 and later Castlevania on Nintendo NES, so I am used to using a joystick or a gamepad controller to play games. It’s super hard for me to play the games that my students create by pressing keys on the keyboard. The students create some very complex games using transporters, mazes and multiple enemies. I usually run out of health and die within the first few seconds of a student-created game. I have to use the cheat feature for teachers to skip ahead but then I don’t get the full experience of playing the games all the way through. This is when having student groups conducting peer reviews becomes very helpful. I have to rely on the students to play, assess and give feedback to their peers on my behalf which is a win-win situation. The inherent feedback and iteration loop of game design gives my students authentic and meaningful opportunities for using both their oral and written language skills.

There are a few things that I would love to see added into Gamestar Mechanic in the future (besides old-school Atari 2600 joystick integration). If I could, I would love if there were more audio and sound incorporated into Addison’s learning quest. It would also be great if there was the option for more customization in the game design where the students could draw and/or import their own avatars and enemies. I would also love to see a guide that breaks down what the different blocks, avatars and enemies can do.

One recommendation that I have for teachers looking to use Gamestar Mechanic is to be prepared to play and to have lots of fun! I would also caution teachers to not worry too much when the sights and sounds of their classroom begin to look less like a “traditional” classroom and more like the arcade that you used to hang out at after-school when you were a teenager. Just remember that your students are not only having tons of fun, but through designing their own games they are learning a massive amount of skills such as: giving and incorporating meaningful feedback; revising and iteration processes; motor skills; problem solving; and strategic thinking.

Thanks, Dara! We hear your advice and will definitely take it into account!

If you’re a teacher using Gamestar Mechanic in your classroom and want to share your story, please get in touch!

Educator Highlight: Tyler Watts

Author

Posted Apr. 16, 2013

CategoryGaming Community, Gaming Education, Guest Post

Tagged

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!

Gamestar Case Study

Author

Posted Apr. 12, 2013

CategoryGames Research

Tagged

I’d like to take a minute to share with you this case study on Gamestar Mechanic written by Peter Hall on Design Minds.  Peter has been tracking the use of Gamestar in classrooms around Brisbane, Australia.

The case study does a great job of explaining what Gamestar is and how it can further systems thinking for students.  There are two parts of this case study which are particularly poignant:

While Gamestar gives students many means to reflect and think critically about their work, getting students to partake in meaningful reflection is challenging “amid the seductive glow of the computer screen, truncated lesson times and distracted students.”  Hall goes on to describe a shift in environment that can be a solution to this challenge: using physical games away from the smart classroom.  Like Hall, I’ve observed successful courses in which students explore games through sports, board games, and word games as a counterpart to their digital game design work.  Hall compares two groups of students, one who used Gamestar only, and one who mixed Gamestar with physical game activities, finding that the mixed physical and digital class had better opportunity for decision-making and discussion.

Another key point in this case study is about students excelling while using Gamestar when they otherwise are not engaged in school.

“Several teachers provide evidence of otherwise disenfranchised students suddenly becoming quite obsessive and productive when confronted with Gamestar Mechanic, empowered with their knowledge and skill to assist fellow classmates in conquering levels, collecting sprites or building games.”

I’ve also observed students who have trouble focusing, writing, or collaborating become engaged while working on game design activities, a testament that when kids are naturally passionate about a subject, they are more inclined to engage with it in an academic setting.

Thank you, Design Minds, for publishing such an interesting study on Gamestar Mechanic!

 

Partner Highlight: The Scholastic Awards

Author

Posted Mar. 27, 2013

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Gaming Community, Partner Highlight

Tagged

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.