Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

All posts tagged “STEM”

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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STEM Video Game Challenge: A Quick Start Guide

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Posted Nov. 25, 2015

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events

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As any experienced teacher knows, November and December are often months packed with activity, anticipation, and a dash of pure insanity. Then, after going home to spend time with family, we arrive back to school in January for  the midwinter blues. Let’s develop a plan to beat those blues right now by looking forward to the National STEM Video Game Challenge.

The fifth cycle of the National STEM Video Game Challenge, launching in 2016, opens on March 15th, and you can begin preparing your students any time. Whether you’re teaching a full on Computer Science course, like myself; using computer science in your Art, Math, Science, or Technology class; or conducting a STEM or STEAM focused after-school program, the National STEM Video Game Challenge is a good way to motivate your students to kick it up a notch.

Now, I understand that you may have little experience with the topic of game design or perhaps you just aren’t prepared to write a curriculum on the topic over your Holiday Break. So, in the Holiday Spirit, I’ve decided to provide you, my fellow teacher, with a “quick start guide”.

Step 1: Video Game Design 101

Let’s talk about game design. Your students may have extensive experience with Game Development via various popular programming environments, but the fine art of game design focuses on the following powerful 21st century concepts, including but not limited to:

Addison Joins the League

  • Designing systems
  • Designing for end-users
  • Creative problem-solving

These concepts are covered in more detail in the post, Designing Fun: There’s more to game design than programming. So, how do we get our students primed and ready to design a really coherent, engaging, and creative game for the National STEM Video Game Challenge? Here are some of my suggestions for class activities to get students thinking like game designers.

Addison Joins the League & the Apprenticeship Badge

Addison Joins the League, the introductory quest of Gamestar mechanic, is all about introducing students to the five elements of game design and how they work together as a system to create a satisfying and engaging end-user experience.

The Apprenticeship Badge, which can be earned in the Gamestar Mechanic workshop, provides a more in-depth study of what goes wrong in the game design process and how to solve those problems, again to improve the overall system and make better end-user experience.

Additional resources and activities.

If you’re looking for a more scaffolded class-wide cooperative learning experience, I highly recommend the materials at the Gamestar Mechanic learning guide, which provides a wealth of lesson plans and curriculum resources. There’s something here for just about everyone, so check it out.

Gamekit Beta

Not able to be online every day? Add in Gamekit Beta, which is like “Gamestar Mechanic unplugged”. There you’ll find activities that focus on concepts such as the balance of luck and strategy to create fun.

Step 2: Design your entries

Gamestar Mechanic typically has a challenge open right within the workshop that includes a special STEM Challenge template or a way for students to choose an existing game from their Workshop. Now, let’s look at some ways to set your students’ STEM challenge games apart from the rest.

Serious Game design

You may or may not be aware of the growing serious games movement. “A serious game or applied game is a game designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment. The serious adjective is generally prepended to refer to products used by industries like defense, education, scientific exploration, health care, emergency management, city planning, engineering, religion, and politics” (Wikipedia).

Dr. Jane Mcgonigal talked at length about this in her famous 2010 TED Talk, Gaming can make a better world.  Today’s kids are often highly motivated to embrace making a positive difference in all kinds of social action and public service projects.

A good way to get some great content out of your students for the STEM challenge is to get them thinking of how they can make a game that is not only fun to play but also helping the player learn something valuable and even world changing. Here are some serious games made in Gamestar Mechanic as examples:

Finally, here are some lessons from Scholastic to help you level up your students’ game content.

Details details details.

Now that your students have learned the basics about how games use goals, rules, mechanics, components, and space in a balanced way to create flow, it’s time to give them one more trick to suck players (and the judges) in. This is the part that puts the STEAM in STEM. It’s time to talk about story.

Your students have likely been focusing on building their levels up to this point. Now it’s time to visit the game and level settings screens and add some context to this adventure. The game and level intro and win messages are a great place to begin to build a unifying story. Use the game intro and win messages to set up the context of your game in terms of exposition and resolution. What is the setting? Who is your main character? What is going on? This involves the player in the story of the game and gives them a reason to care. Then, as the story unfolds, remind students to use the level intro and win messages to cue each wrinkle in the larger narrative of the game. Each level should build on the unifying theme of the story, including finishing touches, like background & soundtrack. Students should be encouraged to tell the story with the 5 Elements – Don’t lose players by telling a story in cut screens that has nothing to do with the game they’re actually playing. The space, components, mechanics, goals, and rules should fit the story or the story should fit the space, components, mechanics, goals, & rules.

To give the game an epic scope, students can include elements like

  • A boss or two (Use a Boss sprite or Just beef up a sprite with the wrench tool)
  • Text message blocks to help unfold the story (get these from the message box challenge)
  • One or more levels that have an epic scope (aka: Multiple Screen Scrolling)

Step 3: Iteration Feedback Loop

The iteration feedback loop is a key part of the Game design process. In this case, it really helps to have a convenient way for your students to play each other’s games and provide feedback. I have my students post a copy of their game to Edmodo. You could use Google Classroom, Moodle, MyBigCampus, or whatever social / LMS space you have. Then students can go play their classmates’ games and give feedback in Game Alley. Make this an opening / warm-up activity or a closure activity each day, and each day focus on a specific aspect of the design. For example, “play a classmate’s game today and give him or her feedback on how the game space contributed to or detracted from the overall balance of the game”.

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We would love to hear about your experiences. Comment below with your successes, frustrations, questions, and any great ides you would like to share. Let’s make some great games this coming spring.

DFTBA

 

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.

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!

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:

Girls and STEM

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Posted Jan. 16, 2012

CategoryGaming Community

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Sadly and persistently, the number of women in technology fields is outstandingly low.  Even though women make up half the workforce, they hold less than 25% of all STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)-related jobs.

This recent spotlight on the Digital Media and Learning site features the Techbridge, an after school and summer program, that promotes girls’ interest in STEM.  One important way that Techbridge fosters this interest is by facilitating connections between the girls and role models and mentors.  The DML spotlight brings up two main points about how to engage girls and women in STEM: include mentors and use messaging geared toward women.  Creating a job position, or camp or school application that stresses competition and an “every man for himself” attitude is a turn off for women, even those who are already adept in STEM skills and qualified for the position.  The key to get more and girls working in STEM? Emphasize opportunities for mentorship and learning, the article says.

An article on MindShift takes exception to the idea that the problem of so few women in STEM can be changed by targeting a “women’s interests.”  Here, the author stresses that it all boils down to our understanding “that it’s not about a fixed set of abilities, but about what can be learned.”  If girls believe that intellectual ability can be expanded, they are more willing to approach (and excel) in STEM subjects than if they believe that intellectual skills are a gift.

So what about girls and Gamestar? The truth is, we don’t have information about how many of our active Gamestar users are girls.  When kids make their accounts they don’t state if they are male or female.  While some usernames might give away that the user is a girl (vanessa123, or babygirl7 for example), even then we can’t be sure because your username can be whatever you want.  I’m curious if this cover of anonymity gives girls the freedom to engage in a tech-y platform without worrying about stigma or competition.  Maybe?  I do know that at least one Gamestar “power user” and contest winner is a girl, but I doubt her many fans in Game Alley know that!

“Are You Game?” Recap

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Posted Nov. 17, 2011

CategoryEvents

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On Saturday, Gamestar Mechanic and BrainPOP partnered to have an awesome event in BrainPOP’s very own beautiful office. This event was a kick off for the National STEM Video Game Challenge which opened yesterday. I cannot stop thinking about how inspiring and energetic this event was!

A wide variety of teachers showed up to learn about how to use game design in their classrooms.  These teachers were public, private, charter, and homeschooling.  They were at elementary, middle, and high school levels.  They worked with mainstream students, ESL students, and special needs students.  Some were gamers, but mostly they were new to gaming and game design, and couldn’t wait to get started with it!

We kicked off the day with a fantastic keynote by Michael Angst, CEO and founder of E-line Media.  Following the keynote were a series of workshops where teachers made physical games, digital games, played games, reviewed games, and learned about games and STEM learning.   To see pictures of the event, go here. (That link also includes handouts to help teachers prepare their students for the STEM video game challenge).

I left the event with a deep understanding that teachers from all walks of life (gamer or not) value the importance of connecting with and teaching students on an innovative and digital level.  Thank you to all teachers who came, to BrainPOP for being fantastic partners, and to the Gamestar team for making such an inspiring platform!

We’ll definitely be doing an event like this again.  See you there next time!

STEM Challenge Opens Today

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Posted Nov. 16, 2011

CategoryChallenges and Contests

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The National STEM Video Game Challenge opens TODAY!!! This challenge is inspired by President Obama’s Educate to Innovate Campaign, with a goal to motivate kids to take an interest in STEM learning by doing something they’re already passionate about – playing and making video games.

This year’s competition opens today, Nov 16, 2011, and closes March 12, 2012.  It features four challenge entry categories: middle school, high school, collegiate, and EDUCATORS.  That means that all you teachers have the opportunity not only to help your students design games for the challenge, but to enter your own designs as well! Make sure to check out the STEM challenge site for information on each challenge category, the game design platforms available, and prizes.

Want some inspiration? Watch the video of last year’s middle school winners:

I helped in the judging of the last year’s middle school level entries, and I was blown away by the creativity and skill shown in many of the hundreds of entries submitted.  This year, I’m sure, the competition will be even bigger and the games even more inspiring.  Can’t wait!

Are You Game? Game Design Workshop – November 12th

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Posted Oct. 26, 2011

CategoryEvents

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GAMEUPWe’ve partnered up with BrainPOP to do a kick-off event for the National STEM Video Game Challenge.  I’m pretty psyched about this event, and excited to work with teachers on how to use Gamestar Mechanic to model STEM subjects.  Check out the flyer below and, if you’re in the NYC area, please come through!! (Also, it’s FREE!)

Attention New York City area educators! Are you ‘game’ for a free one day game design workshop with BrainPOP and Gamestar Mechanic? Then read on…

From the National STEM Video Game Challenge to ed tech conferences around the country, you’ve heard the buzz about student-made games. But how do you get started making that a reality in your classroom? On Saturday, November 12, join leading game designers, STEM content experts, and fellow educators for a day of professional development dedicated exclusively to this rapidly growing field of game design. Keynote speaker Michael Angst, Founder and CEO of educational game publisher E-Line Media, kicks things off with a talk that illuminates the key elements of game design. Then, head to hands-on workshops in which you’ll use curricular content from BrainPOP and the easy-to-use game design tool Gamestar Mechanic to develop your very own game. You’ll leave armed with great ideas and ready to tackle that National STEM Video Game Challenge with your students. Breakfast, lunch, and other goodies will be provided.

When: Saturday, November 12 (National Gaming Day!)
9:30am – 4:00pm

Where: BrainPOP HQ

Register Here!