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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Learning STEM Skills by Designing Video Games

Texas 10-year-old Rhys uses Gamestar Mechanic to program and create worlds to play in, learning valuable skills in science, technology, engineering, and math along the way.
Transcript

Learning STEM Skills by Designing Video Games (Transcript)

Rhys: My name is Rhys. I’m ten years old. I live in Manor, Texas. It’s a small town right outside of Austin. And I like to play baseball and play Gamestar Mechanic.

I really like making games because you get to be really creative with it.

Okay. So right now I’m logging into Gamestar Mechanic. It’s pretty much the only platform I make games on. You can have it be a story game. You can have it be a blasting game. You can have it be an easy game, a hard game. I mean, really, you can do almost anything. “Graveyard Story” is pretty good; it was my first hit game. So your goal in this one is the spooky-monster thing that can transform into a werewolf.

When it has a good story it comes through to the player just like when you’re reading a storybook.

In this one, you’re stranded in this random world and you’re trying to get out. Your goal is to find out where you are and get back home safely. You have to collect all the points and survive.

Gabe Zichermann: It’s great that kids who have a natural affinity for wanting to make games get to make games. It’s, you know, like giving them the tools to paint or write a book or make music. It’s fantastic to allow them to express themselves in the pure art form. What’s really interesting though is if they understand the broader context of how those mechanics can be used in other areas.

Rhys: So each time I don’t want it to be exactly the same, ‘cause then you could just toy with the pattern eventually. And then that way he’s difficult to get past.

Rebecca, Rhys' Mom: I’d have to say that the problem-solving skills that he gets out of this are so valuable across the board. Math, physics, all of these things involve taking a problem that might seem too difficult at first and then figuring out “Which parts of it can I do? I’m gonna start with the parts that I can do and see if they give me clues to the next part.” And designing games is a lot of that.

Rhys: And we’ll just make level two just a little bit harder. Maybe add some more enemies that shoot up here or maybe have the people shoot faster or maybe have people who are pacing back and forth.

I have thought about the similarities and differences of baseball and video games. I think that I like games because they’re a challenge, and I think I also like baseball because it’s a challenge.

And they’re challenging in different ways, but they make you think. They both make you think about where you’re going to put this next enemy, where you need to be for the next play. And I really like that about both things.

Sometimes I look at the comments and see what the people have said and sometimes I go back to change the games so that people will think it’s better.

Kurt Squire: One real key attribute of Gamestar Mechanic is that you have an authentic audience, right? So in most classrooms you’re building stuff for your teacher who may or may not have time to read your essay that you wrote just because it’s an essay. But Gamestar Mechanic has a vibrant community where people are making games for real people, real audiences that have real demands and expectations. So you have to think about “How is my audience gonna perceive this? How are they gonna perceive my message? What are they gonna take away from it?” And Gamestar Mechanic has that really built in and so that’s really key for learning. It’s something we’re not doing in our schools.

Rhys: For comments that say like, “This is terrible. Make a better game next time,” I don’t take it personally. And, actually, I kind of laugh at those comments because they don’t help me make a better game, because I don’t know what to fix. But if there was a comment saying, “I think that you need to have stairs up here so that you can get up there and get this,” then I would say, “Okay, now I know what to fix,” and I would go and fix it.

For example, on a baseball field, a grounder can go right through your legs. And if the coach says, “That was terrible,” I don’t know what to fix. But if he says, for example, “Keep your head down, keep your glove on the ground, and don’t be afraid of the ball,” next time I know what to fix and there’s more of a chance that I’m going to field it than if the coach had said, “That’s terrible.”

When I get good feedback I feel like I can improve with that. I can make a better game and be a better game designer.

Let’s try this out.

Kurt Squire: Feedback’s really important to learning, we know. And one of the issues with schools that we have is that you generally have twenty kids going just through a teacher, right? And so you-- the teacher doesn’t have enough time to get in and really dig in. Teachers want to, but they really don’t have the time to dig in and give kids that kind of feedback. When you have a really robust community, you actually have a million points of contact. They can actually jump in and give each other feedback that’s very pointed, very much where they are, and is able to be useful for them to move forward.

But it turns out that schools are kind of built to keep these things out. You know, our schools are very much built to keep these twenty or thirty people all the same age, all the same ability area, all the same geography, in one room and not interacting. What’s great about Gamestar Mechanic is that it’s trying to use the compelling idea of games and the will and inspiration to create to kind of burst out and have a very vibrant community where people are getting together from all walks of life around building games and studying how do you become a better game designer.

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Credits
  • Producer: Stephen Brown
  • Director of Photography: Joe Rivera
  • Additional Camera: Vanessa Carr, Robbie Stauder
  • Editor: Matthew Beighley
  • Associate Producer: Douglas Keely
  • Senior Manager of Video: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Commissioning Producer: Zachary Fink
  • Executive Producer: David Markus

This video was co-produced by Mobile Digital Arts and Twin Cities Public Television as a companion to the PBS special, Is School Enough?

Is School Enough? Video Series

Edutopia's new series profiles young people who are making their learning more authentic by taking it into their own hands, on their own time. This series is produced by Mobile Digital Arts and Twin Cities Public Television, as a companion to an hour-long PBS special that is now available to watch.

More Edutopia Coverage on Game-Based Learning

Visit the Is School Enough? series page to see more videos on informal learning.

Comments (4)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

amyjthacher's picture

We talk and talk about how video games are ruing our children bu then you read this and youthink maybe we're wrong. It's the content in the game not the game itself. Very very cool.

Kevin Greszler's picture

This is a great post that brings up some profound ideas about how education is changing as a result of technology. I have only been teaching for six years, and already I have seen a huge change in the prevalence of technology in students' lives. Education professionals will need to either embrace these changes or they risk becoming irrelevant. The idea of creating video games is a shift in thinking that embraces and includes technology in the class. It also shows Dr. Thornburg's idea (http://www.tcpdpodcast.org/briefings/expectations.pdf) of the movement from not only using technology to do things differently, but using technology to do different things that were not possible in the past.

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