Student Game Designers Win Big in National STEM Video Game Challenge

Filed in: Games, STEM

Filed by Kelsey Herron


The National STEM Video Game Challenge aims to spark interest in STEM Learning by challenging kids to design original video games.

5.24.12 | The winners of the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge were announced this week at The Atlantic’s Technologies in Education Forum in Washington, D.C.

More than $100,000 was awarded to students and educators by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and E-Line Media. This year’s competition also presented 28 middle and high school students with AMD-powered laptops with game design and educational software, as well as an award of $2,000 for their school or a non-profit organization of their choice.

There were two winners in the collegiate category who each received a pool of $30,000 in seed money for research, marketing, and distribution of their game, as well as support and expertise from experts and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center research team. The three winners selected from the educator category won $40,000 for their project, in addition to support, expertise, and research contributions.

The STEM challenge was inspired by President Obama’s Educate to Innovate Campaign, an initiative to promote a renewed focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. Its main goal is to motivate interest in STEM learning by tapping into activities many youth are passionate about, and challenging them to design their own educational video games. The multi-year competition was launched in partnership with Digital Promise, another initiative designed to “unlock the promise” of new technologies in order to transform teaching and learning.

“It’s about bringing kids together who are excited about the development of video games, something they can make a real career out of. It’s very exciting,” Bert Schmidt, president and CEO of WHRO, a public media outlet in Virginia, says in the video featuring the 2012 winners.

Now in its second year, the STEM challenge received more than 3,700 applicants, compared to 500 in 2011, and the number of winners almost doubled. The challenge also added new sponsors, such as Corporation for Public Broadcasting/PBS KIDS Ready to Learn Initiative.

One of the high school winners, Steven Stulga from Waterford, Va., designed “Darwin’s Finches,” a game in which players take a virtual trip to the Galapagos Islands to learn about natural selection. Another winning game came from high school student Owen Leddy of Santa Monica, Calif.,  who designed the 3-D game “Pathogen Wars” that takes players on a voyage through the human body and immune system.

Plus: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center, in collaboration with BrainPOP, released a new video case study featuring students in New Jersey designing video games for the challenge. Watch Steve Isaacs, a technology instructor at William Annin Middle School, integrate game design and development into his seventh-grade curriculum using programs like Gamestar Mechanic and GameMaker.

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