Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

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Game of Sprites – An epic adventure in STEAM learning.

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Posted Dec. 02, 2016

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events, Gaming Education

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 “Greetings, valiant Mechanics! Are you ready to embark on a grand adventure? Then prepare yourselves for Game of Sprites!” (GSM News, Nov. 16, 2016)

The Holidays are upon us! The students are restless… It’s time for a new challenge! Starting November 18th, the awesome team at Gamestar Mechanic began releasing a series of brand-new Challenges for your students to play through. These challenges will not only allow your students to unlock new sprites and gear but also provide them with a great lead up to a new Contest that will task them with creating their own games using these newly-released sprites! This challenge is awesome for lessons in game design, plot, character development, user-centric design, and creative writing, among other things.

As mentioned in earlier posts, designing a balanced game, one with flow, involves system-based thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, art, storytelling, and digital media literacy. It involves “Systems-Thinking” and “User-Centered Design”. 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-Teller’s Art. This is where Liberal Arts meet STEM. This is what STEAM is all about! This is why those of us who were children of the 90′s remember and even revisit a great old game, much as though it were a great piece of literature we had read in childhood. I’m not trying to blaspheme here. Please do not attack me for putting Cloud and Frodo in the same basket, but I would argue that they might just belong together.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that the team at Gamestar clearly had a lot of fun putting these challenges together. They are well-designed games in which students will have the opportunity to earn never-before-seen sprites that also contain a lot of humor. I may be getting my geek on a little too much, but I seriously had some “laugh-out-loud” moments as I played through the two challenges that have been released so far. I’m seriously stoked for Episode III to be released today!

As this is the Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog and I am a teacher, I think in lesson plans. So without further ado, here is a sample lesson plan for you! (I am so a poet and totally know it!)

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Designing Fun: There’s more to game design than programming

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Posted Apr. 17, 2014

CategoryGaming Education

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This is not fun…

Your students are programming ninjas. They’ve spent the last nine weeks iterating, code tweaking, and testing their programs. Having them design games turned out to be a great move. Not only have your students been engaged, but they’ve also been applying and comfortably discussing core computational concepts, such as sequences, loops, parallelism, conditionals, and operators. The time has come for beta testing. As you and your students view and play the final products, something feels wrong… Yes, they exemplify mastery of core computational concepts. Some of them are even pretty darn awesome looking. The problem is, they’re not fun to play. What went wrong?

The reason games are wildly successful is their engagement factor. A big part of game design is the study of the concepts behind the basic elements of a game, and how the balance of ease and challenge in games creates fun, engaging experiences for the end-user. Games are made for other people to play. If other people don’t enjoy a game, it isn’t designed well. When you make a game for someone else, you have to balance it, consider the elements that make up the game as a system, and how the experience will affect the user (the player). In other words, games are a complex system designed around creating an intuitive, immersive, and satisfying user experience. To be successful as a game designer, you must approach this complex system holistically. Skill and drill coding exercises and practice will not help here. Students need a solid perspective on systems to design great games and any great interactive experience. This is as important to STE[a]M as the ability to write solid code.

Designing Fun

Balance & FlowWhat makes a game fun? What gives a game its addictive qualities? Great games induce a cognitive flow state in players. A game is actually just a complex system, made up of various elements that work together to produce a satisfying experience. Cognitive flow is created when all of the game’s elements are working together in perfect harmony to create the ideal balance of ease and challenge. As an educator, you may be familiar with the ZPD, or Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. This is the same idea. “A game is balanced when it is easy to play, but difficult to win” (Gamestar Mechanic learning guide).

So, how do we teach students how to design fun and engaging experiences? When I started my first game design project, I gave students three blocks-based programming tools, a video on cognitive flow, and an article on Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. This did not work. You’re surprised, right? Seriously, feel free to make fun of me.

One of my students actually asked me during my first run of this project if he could use a tool he found, called Gamestar Mechanic. I said, “Sure.” I immediately Googled Gamestar Mechanic myself and made a teacher account. I was immediately stoked to find that Gamestar teaches flow! It approaches this problem by teaching students about the systemic nature of games and how to use the elements of the game to bring balance. Further, it does all of this with game-based lessons wrapped in a gamified narrative scaffold. Students begin by completing the quest, Addison Joins the League, which introduces them to three important concepts in end-user experience: systems thinking, user-centered design, and the iteration feedback loop. By the time students have finished, they’ve balanced multiple games in repair missions and have designed and published their own game in a space where they can get feedback from fellow designers.

 

STE[a]M, fun, and the future.

In the grand scheme of things, making an experience engaging (fun) may not seem as important as teaching students to code, understand programming logic, or build a working circuit. The companies and designers who are most successful–whose devices are in our pocket right now–are not successful because they build utilitarian functional items. They’re successful because they make stuff that’s fun to use. They design end-user experiences that are intuitive, immersive, and satisfying. Learning to design fun engaging experiences, whether in games or otherwise is a pathway to career success in multiple fields.

This is something that I want for my students. I want to prepare them to thrive, rather than survive. I want them to know how to innovate. I want them designing the next game, device, tool that I didn’t even know I needed or wanted but that I just can’t live without. I need to empower my students to be entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and sought-after creative consultants.  That’s a 21st Century skill, and that’s what STE[a]M in education is all about.

Educator Highlight: Tyler Watts

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Posted Apr. 16, 2013

CategoryGaming Community, Gaming Education, Guest Post

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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 Comics

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Posted Jan. 18, 2013

CategoryGaming Education

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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!

Teacher Videos!

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Posted Mar. 22, 2012

CategoryGaming Education

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We’ve started a new YouTube channel for Gamestar Mechanic.  I’ve been busy making our first two videos for teachers.  One video describes the Iterative Design Process of creating a game, and how to facilitate this process in the classroom.  We often encounter teachers who doubt their skills when it comes to gaming and “tech stuff.”  This video explains how you don’t need to be a super tech savvy teacher to still be a great facilitator of kids learning through game design.

The second video is all about Class Projects, a feature in Gamestar where you can assign game design challenges as assignments (or even homework!) to your class.

Check out these videos here!  Also, let me know if you have any topics you’d like to see in a tutorial video.  You can comment on this post, or email me at katya@elinemedia.com.

Enjoy viewing!

Gamestar at SXSW

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Posted Feb. 24, 2012

CategoryEvents

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SXSW Logo

Attention Texans and festival goers: SXSW is just a few short weeks away. The Gamestar team will be out in force at a couple of events around youth game design.

To start things off on Monday, March 5th, Katya and I will be hosting an introductory game design workshop for teachers featuring Gamestar Mechanic. The workshop is part of AMD’s Game On pre-conference event hosted by SXSWedu. The day will include a bunch of exciting events, including several other workshops featuring other great youth game making tools and programs. For more information and to register, check out this link.

After SXSWedu, I’ll be sticking around for SXSWInteractive to host E-Line Media’s interactive youth game making booth at Screenburn. The Screenburn Arcade features great content from the commercial games industry, but this year we’re letting kids create games at the festival, too. Our booth will feature walk-up workshops in game design for kids as well as showcases and live demos by Austin-area youth game designers. Screenburn is open from March 9-11 at the Palmer Events Center in Austin and, best of all, admission is free. For more information, check out our event page or this article from the Austinist.

Hope to see you there!

Game Design and Ecosystems

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Posted Feb. 23, 2012

CategoryGaming Community

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I’m constantly impressed by the work teachers are doing in their classes using Gamestar Mechanic. In Michigan, Mike Petty is working on a project that ties game design to learning about ecosystems. Even better, he’s documenting the process to share with other teachers! Check it out here.

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.

Youth Game Designers at the White House Science Fair

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Posted Feb. 08, 2012

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events, Games by Kids

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IMG_2786

I think it was when we walked past the battery of TV cameras and photographers in the East Room that it hit me: these kids are being recognized at the White House… by the President… for designing video games!

As the leader of the Gamestar Mechanic team here at E-Line Media and coordinator of the National STEM Video Game Challenge Youth Prize, I had the pleasure of accompanying two of our 2010 winners as they participated in the White House Science Fair on February 7th.

Tuesday’s event was the second Science Fair to take place at the White House during President Obama’s administration and represents his commitment to recognizing outstanding student achievement. As the President put it in his remarks to the students

Now, it is fitting that this year’s fair is happening just two days after the Super Bowl… I’m looking forward to having the Giants here at the White House so we can celebrate their achievements.  But what I’ve also said — I’ve said this many times — is if we are recognizing athletic achievement, then we should also be recognizing academic achievement and science achievement.  If we invite the team that wins the Super Bowl to the White House, then we need to invite some science fair winners to the White House as well.

Over 100 youth from a variety of STEM-oriented competitions attended the event, and let me tell you: these are some impressive kids. From students designing improved football helmets to help prevent traumatic brain injuries to the youngster who invented a waste-free sugar packet that dissolves in water, the ingenuity displayed by these talented young people was something amazing.

Representing the STEM Challenge were Shireen Zaineb, now in 8th Grade, from Milwaukee, WI. Shireen designed her winning game using Gamestar Mechanic as part of her work in technology class at the Milwaukee Montessori School with teacher Sherri Dodd — one of our first Gamestar Mechanic educators!

Joining Shireen was Jasper Hugunin, also in 8th Grade, from Islander Middle School in Mercer Island, WA. Jasper coded his own game from scratch using Javascript. Jasper’s game is designed to teach the player introductory computer science concepts like writing code, logical reasoning and debugging as they lead a robot through a series of mazes.

Along with a select group of students attending the event, Jasper had the opportunity to exhibit his game for the other kids and dignitaries present. Hearing Jasper describe the thought process that went into designing his game — to the likes of astronauts, Senior Department of Education officials and even Bill Nye the Science Guy — really reinforced for me all of the reasons that we think game design is such a great activity for young people.

When we launched the STEM Challenge in 2010, we knew that designing a digital game has tremendous learning benefits. Two years later, through the support of our sponsors and outreach partners, it’s truly incredible for me to see the competition grow and the work of our students be recognized at the highest levels.

I managed to snag a few photos of the event, which you can see in this slide show. You can also see the full video of President Obama’s remarks here.

The 2012 edition of the STEM Challenge the Challenge is accepting entries from middle, high school and collegestudents, as well as educators, through March 12, 2012 at stemchallenge.org.

Congratulations to Shireen, Jasper and all the amazing kids who participated in the White House Science Fair!

Digital Learning Day

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Posted Jan. 31, 2012

CategoryEvents

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It’s almost February, the month of love and chocolate and Digital Learning Day.  On February 1st, 2012, thousands of teachers and millions of students will pledge to use technology in new, innovative ways in their classrooms.

The National Writing Project suggests three ideas for Digital Learning Day:

Start a Conversation: Discuss technology in learning, including tweeting with the tag #DLDay

Try One New Thing: Explore tech resources, start a new digital class project

Showcase Success:
Have students present what they’ve created with technology

With Gamestar Mechanic, you can encourage students to make games in honor of Digital Learning Day, have them review each other’s games as part of the conversation, and present their work as artifacts of digital learning.

If you’re already using Gamestar in your class, try to use it in a new way on February 1st.  Have you tried modeling stories in games?  How about designing a game that that makes a social impact statement?  There are a ton of ideas about how to use Gamestar with traditional school subjects in the Learning Guide.  And, if you’re a premium teacher, try assigning a Gamestar Class Project to your students (look in your Workshop under Classes).

Happy Digital Learning Day! Hope it’s an innovative and inspiring one!

Collaboration in Game Alley

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Posted Jan. 09, 2012

CategoryGames by Kids

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Game Alley is a community spot in Gamestar Mechanic where designers publish their games to share with the Gamestar network.  There are thousands of Game Alley games, and many of them are creative and special.  Today, I’d like to highlight a game that is doing something completely new:

The Alpha Collab: Part 1 by zenwarrior54

Here zenwarrior54 created the first two levels of a story.  zenwarrior54 set up the beginning of this adventure and purposefully did not design any further.  The outro of this game calls upon another designer to create the next chapter of the story.  This is how zenwarrior54 describes the premise:

“HELLO EVERYBODY! I had an idea for a series of games: I would make the first one in a series, then decide another player to make the next part, then when that player is done making that part, he/she would decide the next player to make the next part. And it goes on. Anyone can participate if they are called forth, so this will be a series that really belongs to the entire community.  So here we are! Now for the actual game: You are a young boy named Samuel . . “

And the game begins with the story of Samuel setting out on his quest.  I highly encourage you to play the game here – it’s a level about collecting information, no enemies and no chance to get hurt.

While Game Alley was not initially constructed for this kind of collaboration, the kids who make up are community are exceptional and invent new ways to share all the time.  Collaborative storytelling through game design is a real opportunity for learning (creative thinking, problem solving, expression).  This sounds like something I would assign in a class, but instead, it was born organically in Game Alley.  Now I’m waiting for Part 2!