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!