Want to Teach STEM Skills and Game Design? Sign Up to Play Gamestar Mechanic
9.29.10 | Educators looking to combine video gaming with learning may be interested in this week’s release of Gamestar Mechanic, a new game-based learning platform that promotes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts while teaching the principles of game design.
“Video games are a technology that allow players to practice skills over and over, but as part of solving larger problems that motivate them,” said Jim Gee, a games researcher and professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University, in a recent New York Times Q&A on video games and learning.
Gee, like many gaming advocates, argues that early exposure to programming, game design or even “modding” (redesigning games and making new versions of them) teaches students to think through complex problems and work toward solutions.
Gamestar Mechanic was developed on the belief that when kids learn to design the games they play, they “build technological, artistic, cognitive, social and linguistic skills necessary for a highly networked, digital, rapidly evolving 21st-century world.”
Gamestar Mechanic features three components: Quests, with exciting adventure games that teach the core principles of game design; a Player Workshop, that has drag-and-drop game creation tools; and Game Alley, a community where players can publish their own games, play and review the games of their peers and enter game design competitions.
Students earn “sprites” during the quests, which take place in a “steampunk” world run by game designers. They then get to use the sprites to make their own games once they advance.
Gee says games like these, in addition to promoting deep learning, can also make students “producers, designers and innovators and not just consumers and spectators.”
In the Times Q&A, Gee goes on to explain how in order to experience deep learning students need to enter what researchers call a “flow state” of intense focus (and satisfaction). Games like Gamestar Mechanic help students get to this state by giving them a problem to focus on with an appropriate level of difficulty.
“You need to practice enough, with some failure, until you get to the point where the problems still feel challenging, but you know you can do them with enough effort,” said Gee. “[Y]ou practice so much the problems are mastered and you enjoy that mastery for awhile before seeking newer, more challenging problems, which allows you to ramp up your skills.”
Gamestar Mechanic has been piloted at dozens of schools, including Quest to Learn, the games-based charter school in New York City. Katie Salen, the school’s executive director of design, is also one of Gamestar’s lead designers. [Watch Spotlight’s interview with Salen here].
Chelsea Nilsson, dean of instruction at the KIPP Charter School in Philadelphia where the game was piloted, said Gamestar helped give students a real sense of “mastery and confidence.” Students were helping each other play and figure out next steps.
“It was exciting to see previously disengaged students become peer mentors,” she said.
Designed for 4th to 9th grade students, the Gamestar Mechanic package includes a comprehensive game design curriculum, created by the Institute of Play, that can be used in a variety of informal and formal learning environments—schools, after-school programs, home schools, libraries, community centers, museums and camps. The curriculum can be adapted for a single-session media lab activity or a semester-long game design elective.
Created through a public-private partnership involving foundations, nonprofits, academia and the gaming industry, Gamestar offers a unique model for creating future learning games. Development of the game was initially funded through a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to the Institute of Play. The game is being released by E-Line Media.
Gamestar Mechanic is browser-based (no download required) and runs on both PCs and Macs. The game has both free and premium tiers for consumers and teachers. Sign up at http://www.gamestarmechanic.com.
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