Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

Guest Post – Kerri on the STEM Challenge


Posted Mar. 25, 2013

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events, Guest Post


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


Posted Mar. 14, 2013

CategoryEvents, Gaming Community, Gaming Education


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


Posted Mar. 04, 2013

CategoryGaming Community, Gaming Education


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.

Kids Teaching Kids (and Parents)


Posted Feb. 12, 2013

CategoryGaming Community, Gaming Education


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!

Apprentice Badge


Posted Feb. 08, 2013

CategoryGaming Community, Gaming Education


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.



Posted Jan. 29, 2013

CategoryGaming Community, Gaming Education


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

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 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.

Gamestar Comics


Posted Jan. 18, 2013

CategoryGaming Education


We talk a lot about literacy when we talk about Gamestar Mechanic: digital literacy, computer literacy, games and game system literacy. It’s important to note that in the Gamestar world, there is a ton of good old reading and writing literacy as well. Kids create story-lines for their games told through written intros/outros and in-game messages. Kids comment and review each other’s games using their own words. And in the Gamestar Quests, kids follow the story of Addison through motion comics. These comics tell the tale of a budding game designer going on an adventure in a world where everything is powered by games. These comics and fun and exciting, but they do involve reading, and often kids just want to play games instead of read.

Samson explains balance in a game

One strategy I’ve found effective in a classroom is to start off the class away from the computer and have students discuss the class’s topic before even logging into Gamestar. The Quest comics contain a lot of information about game design through the adventure story, and to make sure your students read this story, we’ve made the comics in PDFs. You can print these and look at them as a class before going onto the computers. Often kids discover a favorite character from the comics, one who represents the kind of games that they like.

Check out this page in the learning guide to download all the Quest Comic PDFs.

Also, if your students are into creating their own dialogue, we have all the Quest Comic PDFs with blank speech bubbles as well. Students can fill in their own ideas, changing the story or the characters according to their imagination. I’ve found this activity to be particularly fun and effective in ELL and creative writing classes. Enjoy the comics!

Healthivores is back!


Posted Jan. 14, 2013

CategoryChallenges and Contests


Remember last year’s awesome competition from our friends at Healthivores? They’re back!

If you missed it last year and want to participate, you’re in luck. Here’s a note from the Healthivores team: This year’s Healthivores Video Game Contest has begun and its easier than you think. Check out the included Lesson Plan that will take teachers, even those with zero game design experience, step-by-step through the process of teaching your students to design games. You will have your students completing their video games in less than 4 weeks. This year Healthivores has added Technology, Science and Math focused Lesson Plan options to the already popular Nutrition and Fitness Lesson Plan. Each winning team will receive one laptop for the teacher, one for the school and one for each student on the team (See 2012 Winners here). Deadline for entry is March 31, 2013 (allow 4 weeks for completion of Lesson Plan). Get started now at the Healthivores Video Game Contest homepage!

Games and Quizzes


Posted Dec. 20, 2012

CategoryGaming Education


Chava, our super intern, wrote a nice piece about how multiple choice quizzes embedded in games don’t necessarily make the games fun or good for learning. Check out what she has to say!

Games and Quizzes

School is known for its tests and quizzes. They keep students up at night, sometimes in a frantic sweat as they try to cram information into their short-term memories so that they’ll have the info they need for tomorrow’s exam. But how much long-term learning is there? This debate has plagued education discussions for a long time. And what about gaming? The Situated Learning theory (by Lave and Wenger) states that students learn best in context, where the learning is situated in the activity. This is immersion in a game.

It’s a start to suppose that disguising multiple-choice quizzes as games, with colorful components and the risk of “dying”, will make the learning better. But the issue is still the same – there is no need for critical thinking or problem solving, and no immersion in the subject. Multiple-choice quiz-games can be won by trial and error – “If I go down path A, I die; path B gets me to the next level. Wait, was there a question there too?”

Game designers have used Gamestar to create some pretty cool learning games that avoid the multiple-choice determiner and instead provide a fun, interactive immersion into the lesson. BobbyGurecki’s game that models the water cycle (with pollution and all!) situates the learner by placing them in the role of the water droplet – and what better way to learn about the water cycle than by being a part of it?

Boesemad’s game depicts the food chain, where you play as a part of the food chain by having to go after your food before you become food.

These examples replace the trial-and-error of quiz questions with an active situated learning approach. You can’t avoid learning when you’re a part of it. – Chava Wernick

Games for Change Workshop


Posted Dec. 11, 2012

CategoryEvents, Gaming Community


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!