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STEM Challenge – Can you feel the hype?

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Posted Jan. 23, 2012

CategoryChallenges and Contests

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Today I googled 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge and read through 15 full pages of search results where people and organizations shared their excitement for this year’s STEM competition.

I also experienced this excitement first hand in Norfolk, VA this weekend as I participated in NSU’s TechFest by giving workshops on game design for the STEM Challenge.  One point that seemed to be an “Aha!” moment for the workshopers was the idea that the process of making a game is STEM.  For the STEM Challenge, you can submit games about a STEM topic (anything about science, technology, engineering, or math) but you can also submit a game on any topic you want.  If I build a game about a group of gummy bears racing each other on tricycles, the content of this game is not directly STEM-related, but the process I went through to make the game is.

A game is a system with a number of complex elements that have to coexist in balance with one another.  Controlling the racing gummy bears needs to be just tough enough to keep the player interested, but accessible enough to make the task doable.  This means thinking about the length and design of the race track, the skills and characteristics of each bear, the obstacles they will face while racing, and the trials and rewards the player receives.  To make a game like this fun, a designer needs to create a hypothesis of how the game will work, model the game system, test it using other players, and iterate on the design to rework the original hypothesis.  This game design process looks very similar to the scientific method! Game designers use systems thinking, critical thinking, and problem solving to create any game, even a silly one.  (Not to mention, the gummy bear racing game needs to take speed, velocity, and acceleration factors into account – that’s straight up math).

This is why you can enter any kind of game into the National STEM Video Game Challenge.  All game design fosters STEM thinking, and a game about a STEM topic just takes that thinking a little deeper into specific STEM subject matter.

Check out these links for info about preparing your students (and yourself!) for the STEM Challenge: