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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Gamestar Mechanic: Gamification Made Easy

Children in the 21st century experience media in ways that are vastly different from any previous generation. Social networking, user-created content and video games provide a level of interactivity that was unthinkable a generation ago. As a result, educators are rethinking educational practices that have long been taken for granted. Many have come to the conclusion that the answers they're looking for lie in making video game design a central part of the curriculum.

Proponents of game design in the classroom say that it promotes students' systems thinking, problem solving and critical analysis skills. Best of all, including game design in the classroom drastically increases student engagement with the material, thus increasing achievement. Interestingly, even the Boy Scouts have taken notice of this trend and now include a Game Design Merit Badge as part of their program. So where can the average classroom teacher turn to include game design in his or her classroom? One popular solution is Gamestar Mechanic.

VIDEO: Learning STEM Skills by Designing Video Games (Time: 06:40)

Immersive Teaching

Gamestar Mechanic is a one-stop solution for teachers who see the potential of game design being included in their classroom, but may not know where to begin. Using Gamestar Mechanic is a highly engaging experience for students. It has been named one of the American Association of School Librarians Best Educational Websites of 2012. Best of all, since it is based entirely online, there is nothing to download (other than Adobe Flash).

Students' first experience upon signing up for an account is an interactive tutorial. Part comic book and part video game, the tutorial explains the basics of game design by scaffolding example levels for students to play through. Concepts such as the importance of setting goals for your players, having clearly defined rules, and different styles of games are all stressed. Along the way, students will earn Sprites, which will become the basic building blocks of their own games. Sprites are the interactive characters, goals, collectables, items and enemies that you place into your game to engage and challenge the player. Using a simple drag-and-drop interface allows students to focus on the game's design rather than worrying about esoteric programming challenges.

With this kind of immersive teaching, students will soon complete enough of the tutorials that they'll earn the ability to create their own games. Eventually they'll even be able to share the games they've created with other Gamestar users.

Screenshot from Gamestar Tutorial

Credit: E-Line Media & Institute of Play

Being able to share games and get feedback from the community is a vital aspect of the Gamestar experience. As a middle school English teacher, I know all too well how common it is to meet students who have difficulty receiving constructive criticism. Often, they will quit on a project at the first sign of imperfection. Teaching children to iterate on their designs, to tweak and tinker until they get it right, is an incredibly valuable lesson. Receiving feedback from other users is an immediate and tangible way of keeping students involved with their creations after they've been posted. This process also allows for Gamestar users to feel connected to something larger than themselves or their classroom; it allows them to be part of a community.

Gamification

Whether you teach English, science, math or anything else in between, there are myriad ways in which Gamestar can be combined with existing curriculum and used in the classroom:

  • After reading a book in class, have your students recreate major scenes in the form of a video game.
  • Ask students to design a game that teaches other students a specific scientific concept you've been studying.
  • After studying ratios, ask students to create a game that contains a certain ratio of coins (for the player to collect) to enemies.
  • Recreate famous myths from different cultures that have been studied in history class.
  • Have students create a game that consists of a level for each stage in a butterfly's life cycle.

These are just a few of the countless possibilities. At gamestarmechanic.com/teachers, Gamestar provides teachers with robust support materials. Additionally, Gamestar offers teachers a discount for classrooms, with student registration available at a fraction of the normal cost.

In the coming years, our students are only going to become more connected and technologically savvy. I believe that tools like Gamestar Mechanic will give teachers an edge in the battle for their attention; and they will give our students an edge in an ever-evolving future.

Comments (10)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Lynette's picture

As a math teacher, I would love to have a video game for students to play to learn (and remember) valuable math concepts. I also like the idea in this blog of having students make their own video games. I would be interested in using this if it gave the students a chance to process and practice the math concepts in a helpful way. I definitely agree that it would be motivating for them.

On the other hand, kids are so inundated by video games and fast-paced entertainment. I think it's okay for them to play video games once in awhile, but it's far better to spend more time outside in nature and sunshine. And for them to learn to be engaged by a slower-paced, less entertaining format.

Roane Beard's picture
Roane Beard
Advocate for PBL focused language arts programs in school and out.

We're actually running a pilot program for Inglewood Unified School District's after-school program using Gamestar Mechanic as a basis. We use game design as a jumping off point for teaching language arts skills. In a nutshell, the kids play games, make games, and respond to each other's games through the comments section and blog posts. The full curriculum for the program is still in development, but we're having great results from the pieces we've rolled out. We're looking forward to going full bore next year.

Andrew R. Proto's picture
Andrew R. Proto
Middle School English Teacher
Blogger 2014

Roane,
I'd love to hear more about your succes using Gamestar. Are you chronicling your classes progress online anywhere?

Andrew R. Proto's picture
Andrew R. Proto
Middle School English Teacher
Blogger 2014

Having your students design video games isn't a panacea for them if their having trouble with certain math concepts. However, by having them figure out how to represent mathematical concepts in such a different medium you're forcing them to think about math in new, less abstract ways. This in itself may be enough for some students to grasp topics they were having trouble with

Roane Beard's picture
Roane Beard
Advocate for PBL focused language arts programs in school and out.

Hi Andrew! Sorry for the late reply. I missed your post somehow.

We're still in pilot mode, and haven't begun the chronicling process, but the upcoming revisions we've made to the program call for students to blog about their efforts. We're looking forward to starting that approach in the fall.

Here's a sample of what our students will be doing, if you'd like to take a look:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/ocr1a8qjta9opjp/LessonPlanWeek10.

Anu Divakaran's picture

I totally agree with the part of using interactive elements for immerse learning. Thanks for sharing this Andrew! I also happen to come across an interesting webinar by Ross Smith, Director of Test Microsoft Skype Division on 12th September, 2013. Ross will be speaking about 'Where do serious games make the most sense?'. You might want to be a part of it. Here is the link to register for the session https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/613153649

iPad Rookie's picture
iPad Rookie
8th Grade AVID, Language Arts and Social Studies from San Jose, CaI have

PBL is a big part of my classroom instruction, and I have two and three hour blocks of time each day. I want to incorporate IPad use in my instruction and go beyond the basic ideas. Game-design seems to be an intriguing way to pursue this concept. Gamestar Mechanic seems to be a good place to start, and maybe I will get all my questions answered there. I am open to different ideas and want to share my findings as well.

Clint Walters's picture

Gamestar Mechanic is awesome. I can't say enough good things about it. I love how you noted that "Being able to share games and get feedback from the community is a vital aspect of the Gamestar experience". Not only is this a key part of the iteration and feedback loop, but it also builds in collaboration and awareness of audience.

I just finished a post on how you can use GSM with GameKit Beta in your classroom. Check it out: http://bit.ly/gsmandgmkt

David Byrum's picture

A blast from the past! Using games in the classroom has been a teaching tool since the early 1970's when Apple II computers were making their way into the classroom in large numbers (and then later with the Commodore 64's). In the mid 1980's I used to teach a summer 3 week course for computer programming in BASIC by having the students design and write the code for a "Dungeons and Dragons" type adventure game. My point with this post is that in education we are often recreating the wheel as each new generation of teachers/students/administrators feel the need to throw away and/or ignore the lessons of the past and do "something new". It's kind of fun to see and experience :) Not always productive but interesting anyway!

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