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Gamestar Mechanic: Teaching game design in the classroom

What it is: I just love when I get lost in a bunny trail of links…you know the kind, you go hunting for something specific and click on something that looks interesting which leads you to a browser of 25 tabs open.  I had one of these serendipitous link moments today that lead me to Gamestar MechanicGamestar Mechanic is both a game and an online community that teaches kids how to design their own digital games.  In designing games, students learn systems thinking, creative problem solving, art and aesthetics, writing and storytelling, and creates a motivation for further STEM exploration.  The free version of Gamestar Mechanic is available with unlimited use for teachers who want to use it with their students.  This account option comes with 1 teacher login and 40 student logins.  A premium account offers some additional classroom goodies including: class management, the ability for students to incorporate their own custom artwork, live professional training webinars, tools for tracking student activity and assessing progress, the option of having a “walled” school community, and more.
As a teacher you will find sample lessons for using Gamestar Mechanic, an introductory step-by-step guide, and a full learning guide.  Teachers can even play a short quest to learn more about how to use Gamestar Mechanic in the classroom to teach core subjects.

How to integrate Gamestar Mechanic into the classroom:  There is so much to learn from digital games.  As a player, students learn to think strategically, persist through failure and experience epic wins that can translate to what they do and are willing to try out in real life.  As a designer students learn systems thinking, creative problem solving, digital art and aesthetics, and storytelling and writing.  Students love being able to bring their creations and ideas to life in the form of a game.  Gamestar Mechanic could be the key to unlocking the storytelling genius in your reluctant writers.  It has been my experience that a student faced with a blank paper and a writing assignment can be daunting.  Introduce the idea of designing their own game and suddenly a storyline pours forth.  It is pretty neat to watch!
Gamestar Mechanic makes it easy for all teachers to incorporate game design into the classroom and weave it into the core subjects being taught.  You don’t have to be a tech-superstar, just create an account, read through the getting started guide and enlist the help of a student who’s passion is game design.  This type of designing and thinking is wonderful because it lays the ground work for so much other STEM thinking.  It nicely blends disciplines and helps students recognize the overlap in the learning that they do.
Students can each create a game of their own in a lab setting where every student has a computer.  If you are limited on your computer options for students, create a game as a class using an interactive whiteboard or projector-connected computer.  Students can create games that incorporate other learning or research they are doing to help teach future classes or younger students.  At Anastasis, we have Crave Classes.  These are classes that the student gets to choose based on personal passions.  In the one or two computer classroom, give your students time for a Crave class where they work on Gamestar Mechanic.  Other students can follow their areas of passion…almost in a center type of a set up.
Tips:  There are a variety of pricing and package options for classrooms.  If your students are really enjoying the game design process, it might be worth taking a look at the premium options available.

Please leave a comment and share how you are using Gamestar Mechanic in  your classroom!

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4 Comments

  1. I have used Gamestar for a summer camp and now in my classroom for a science-based project, and it was a great success. The site does a great job of framing game design elements, and providing a space for building and publishing video games. Plus, the technical support from the site has been fantastic. Whenever I have had a question or needed help, they have been in touch within a day or so.
    Here is my own website about our science-based video game project: http://gaming4schools.yolasite.com/
    Kevin

  2. I’ve been using Gamestar Mechanic in afterschool workshops where many of the kids are using it to create a game for the National STEM Video Game Design Challenge. I started with the free version, but a couple weeks in got the full version and the students noticed right away and loved all the new features. I totally agree that you don’t need to be an expert on this, in fact, it has been an awesome experience to see the students excel on their own and help each other out. By now many of them have far exceeded my gaming abilities. I really just provide guidance on planning and storyboarding. I’ve shared activities and resources from the workshops @ http://techkimgames.blogspot.com/p/resources.html.

  3. Many of my students were out of class today, leaving me with only three students to teach. Since it would have been silly to cover something new to only teach it again when the majority of the class came back next week, I went to your website to look up some new technological ideas that we could test out.

    Gamestar mechanics was perfect for my fifth graders. They loved the graphics and the gameplay. The directions were just enough without being overly cumbersome for those with difficulty reading and was just difficult enough to challenge them without frustrating them. One thing I really loved was hearing “This is TOO HARD!!” from my students and watching them jump right back into the game without giving up on it – like so many students will do when faced with challenges. I have to admit that I was hooked into the gameplay as well.

    It was harder to access if the students were keeping up with the actual background story or skipping through it quickly without reading it, making the literacy component a bit harder to stick to. However, when students tried to skip over directions or goals, they quickly became lost and confused. They had to go back, reread directions, and start the level over. In that sense, the reading directions component, was great for them.

    Overall, I do love the game. The Free Licensing provides just enough incentives for the classroom environment without missing anything key that would force teachers to have to pay money to get the most out of the game. I have not checked to see if students can play levels created by other students in the class yet, but that is the main thing the students want to get out of the experience in the end. That, or create their own iPod Touch app. One step at a time, right?

    Love your site!

  4. I started a Gamestar club this past fall, and it was the single coolest experience I’ve had in my 6 years of teaching!! The club was a huge success (grades 4-6), and the students who were in the fall-semester club begged to have a continuing club so they could use what they’ve learned, so I’ve added a Scratch club for those kids since they’re ready for something even more advanced, all the while continuing Gamestar w/ a new crop of kids this spring semester. To cap off the wonderful experience of our club, 4 students from the fall group just presented about their experiences at a student-led tech conference and did a fabulous job!! We love Gamestar! 🙂

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