The National STEM Video Game Challenge—Getting into the Learning Game
By Alex Games Ph.D., Education Design Director at Microsoft Studios
As any experienced teacher can tell you, one of the best ways to captivate children while teaching them is to make lessons interactive and fun, allowing them to forget they are actually learning. I saw just how true this was as a judge for the National STEM Video Game Challenge. The competition promotes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education by harnessing kids’ natural passion for video games. Earlier this week, I visited Washington, DC, where I was given the opportunity to meet the winners – some of our nation’s most promising future game developers.
I was thrilled by the positive response the Challenge received from students – about 3,700 innovators from all over the United States created unique video games – a huge number in itself, but also a 700 percent increase in participation from last year’s Challenge. While in DC, I was pleased to see, once again, the diverse and innovative ways in which gamescan be used for learning. A clear example was STEM Challenge winner Gustavo Zacarias’ game, “The Dark Labyrinth.” The game created by Gustavo using Microsoft’s Kodu Gamelab, has players travel through the depths of a labyrinth solving math problems, and using their solutions as the basis for choosing the next turn to take on their way out. Not only was I was blown away with Gustavo’s creative design, but I was also pleasantly surprised to see the careful way in which he integrated his game mechanics with math in a way that made it fun to brush up on some of my math skills.
In my role as Microsoft’s Education Design Director, I’ve seen the revolutionary ways gaming can transform learning as we traditionally think of it. Kodu is a clear example of the powerful tools now available to educators and learners to make such change happen. Kodu is a freely downloadable game creation platform that allows learners to explore those aspects of computer programming, digital art, and, interactive systems design that lie under the hood of modern videogames. It is always fascinating to see the ways in which its shallow learning curve allows youth to quickly create game mechanics that resemble those of the commercial games they often play, and then inspires their creativity to transform their love of playing games into a love for creating them. We have found this process a very powerful way to give them a sense of pride and ownership in their work, but as importantly, to fuel in them the drive and desire to tackle the complex problem solving, computational thinking, and sociotechnical system construction challenges that underlie not only the creation of games, but also the use a plethora of tools in the STEM disciplines from the creation of experiments to the simulation of natural phenomena. Just as importantly, the games they create act as a medium of expression that helps them reflect on these challenges, and express their understanding in a highly relevant form to them.
At Microsoft, we are excited to see how principles of playful interactive play that underlie Kodu are also allowing us to create a learning and enrichment basis for other family experiences, such as “Kinect Sesame Street TV” and “Kinect Nat Geo TV.” By partnering with leaders in educational content, we are carefully taking these high quality shows and adding a layer of interactivity aimed at enhancing their message through play, by enabling characters in the show to talk and interact directly with viewers.
While in DC, I also had the chance to meet with others who are equally as passionate about gaming’s role in education. I had great discussions with people like, Michael Levine from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and Robert Torres from the Gates Foundation, who are leading thinkers about the use of video games in innovative ways to prepare students for the 21st Century classroom.
I know that initiatives like the National STEM Videogame Design Challenge are helping develop young minds with skills fit for the future, and I’m encouraged by the unprecedented number of students getting excited about math and science. I’m excited about what the future has in store for these promising future game developers and look forward to working with them someday.
New Initiative Harnesses Video Games to Meet National Active Lifestyle Goals
By Get Game Smart
On April 30 in Washington, D.C., Get Game Smart partner the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN) and other industry leaders launched the Active Play Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) Challenge, an initiative that uses video games to promote healthy living.
Xbox was onsite for the day’s activities along with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, members of the President’s Council, and Drew Brees and Dominique Dawes, celebrity co-chairs of the initiative. The first part of the day took place at the Walker Jones Education Campus, where local students were on hand to demonstrate the PALA Challenge video games, including Microsoft’s “Kinect Sports: Season Two.” Council members and other guests also had their turn trying out the games, experiencing firsthand how these fun games get families moving.
The activities then moved to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where industry stakeholders could tour the “Art of Video Games” exhibit and experience “Kinect Sports: Season Two” and other participating “exergames.” New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees stopped by the Kinect station and played football on “Kinect Sports: Season Two,” leading his team to victory!
The day ended with remarks from Secretary Sebelius, President’s Council celebrity co-chair Drew Brees and ESA president and CEO Michael Gallagher who discussed how video games can be a key component of an active lifestyle and help Americans earn the President’s Active Lifestyle Award.
The Active Play PALA Challenge is open to people of all ages who want to get moving in a fun, interactive way. Click here to learn more about the new challenge and how “Kinect Sports” can help you reach the specified fitness goals.
Beyond Fun and Games: My Experience as a National STEM Video Game Challenge Judge
By Noah Munck
Whenever I tell people I grew up in Orange County, they assume I’m a really good surfer. I’m not. My Xbox avatar; however, is an excellent athlete.
Yes, I’m a self-proclaimed gaming nerd - and proud of it. Growing up the oldest of five children, I thoroughly enjoyed every opportunity to dominate in games against my brothers and sisters. It wasn’t all competitive, though – video games also got the whole family together, one of the few activities we could all agree on.
I think back to playing games with my family just a few years ago, and I’m amazed at some of the things companies have come up with since then. There are singing games. There are dancing games. There are sports games, action games, and educational games. There are even games that don’t require a controller. You can even create and play your own game.
I’ve recently been reviewing some of these homemade video games in my role as a judge for the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge – and I’m truly impressed by what these young gamers have come up with using programs like Microsoft’s Kodu. The whole idea behind the Challenge is brilliant – students learn basic programming skills that will help them get jobs in a way that’s fun and engaging.
Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, Andrew Mason from Groupon, Pete Cashmore from Mashable, even Carly Shay of iCarly – young tech-savvy minds are behind some of the best products out there. For young Americans to keep innovating like this, we need to foster talent as early as possible – which is why competitions like the STEM Video Game Challenge are so important. Who knows – maybe I’ll be playing one of the winning games on my Xbox in the near future.
Noah Munck is an actor on TV's iCarly and avid video gamer. He is serving as a judge in the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge. For more information, visit www.stemchallenge.org.
Join Us for a TweetChat on Game-Based Learning
We recently blogged about our sponsorship of the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge, a multi-year competition that aims to motivate interest in STEM learning among America’s youth. By tapping into kids’ existing passion for video games and technology, the Challenge aims to help build essential math and science skills while inspiring them to be the next generation of America’s innovators.
We’re teaming up with a few of our National STEM Video Game Challenge partners to host a TweetChat to discuss youth game design and game-based learning. Details are below:
U.S. News & World Report and AMD STEM Challenge TweetChat
Date: February 22, 2012
Time: 4:15 p.m. – 5:15 p.m. ET
Stay up-to-date on the #STEMchat conversation by following @changingthegame & @jason_koebler! Use the #STEMchat hashtag during the chat so you don't miss anything. Every 10 minutes, one randomly selected registered participant will receive exciting gifts from the participating organizations.
#STEMchat conversation panelists include @STEMChallenge, @CooneyCenter, @GetGameSmart,
@pbskids, @ELineMedia and @ErikatESA.
Visit the National STEM Video Game Challenge website for more information about the Challenge.
Instructions on how to join:
TweetChat link: http://tweetchat.com/room/STEMChat
Enter hastag #STEMchat at the top of the page to join the conversation
To register, please e-mail Danielle.Meister@Edelman.com your name and Twitter handle, and follow @GetGameSmart, @changingthegame and @jason_koebler.
How Kids Can Build Science and Math Skills With Video Games
The Congressional Committee on Science, Space, and Technology recently highlighted how the federal government and its various partners are using creative ways to generate an interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in classrooms across America – from robots to interactive video games. Mike Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association and Get Game Smart partner, explained how video games can teach students about STEM fields, noting that such initiatives have enormous potential “to foster highly engaged, effective learning and motivation for STEM.”
At Microsoft, we’re also committed to building programs to attract the innovators of the future. Today, Xbox 360 announced a sponsorship of the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge, a multi-year competition that aims to motivate interest in STEM learning among America’s youth. Just recently, Microsoft worked with young members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington to develop games with Kodu, a free program that enables students to design and program their own video games and virtual worlds. By tapping into kids’ existing passion for video games and technology, these educational efforts will help build essential math and science skills while inspiring them to be the next generation of America’s innovators.
Read more about the STEM Video Game Challenge
Lunch & Learning: Boys & Girls Club Youth Visit Microsoft D.C.
By Get Game Smart
Members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington (BGCGW) stopped by Microsoft’s Innovation and Policy Center in Washington, D.C. to showcase Xbox 360 games they developed using Kodu Game Lab, a program that teaches computer programming skills through video game creation. Microsoft employees had the chance to meet and speak with these special young people.
Youth from two Boys & Girls Clubs – Clubhouse No. 2 and the FBR Branch @ THEARC – worked over the course of several months with Microsoft mentors to brainstorm game ideas, create their own world, populate it with characters and program each of the elements of their games.
As part of the luncheon showcase, local Silver Spring, Maryland teacher and Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Educator Pat Yongpradit spoke to the Boys & Girls Club youth about computer science, game design and careers in technology. He also led them through the process of programming an Xbox controller using the Microsoft XNA framework.
The Kodu program received rave reviews from the youth and BGCGW staff with all participants sharing that the experience was fun and educational and that it sparked interest in learning more about college majors and careers in computer programming and other technology fields.
BGCA Youth Builds Xbox 360 Video Game with Kodu Game Lab
In advance of Microsoft's Capitol Hill Family Game Night, several members of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington participated in the development of original video games using Microsoft's Kodu Game Lab alongside Microsoft representatives Brendan Daley and Amanda Moss. One club member, Jemiah Brown, shares his experience below.
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a Microsoft Xbox program at the FBR Branch Boys & Girls Club. We used a program called Kodu to create our own Xbox game.
It was fun to create and play! First, we were able to create the whole landscape with the land and the water. Then we created a chain reaction for our character Kodu - it was cause and effect. Using teamwork, we put all of our ideas together to create a final game. Our game was about the Kodu who tried to get all of the apples within period of time. If the clock ran out of time and Kodu did not collect all of these tokens, you would lose and the game would be over.
Even though I am not a serious video game player, I like to play the game in my free time. I would recommend this to other kids because everyone always talks about making their own video game. Kodu is an easy and fun way to do it!
Microsoft Brings Kinect for Xbox 360 to the Second Annual Capitol Hill Family Game Night
By Alisha Mark, Safer Gaming Advocate for Xbox 360
Microsoft recently hosted the second annual Capitol Hill Family Game Night in Washington D.C., bringing the excitement of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) to the nation’s capital while showcasing innovative gaming technology, education and family-friendly fun to policymakers and their families. The event, which took place in the Rayburn House Office Building, featured Microsoft’s controller-free Kinect for Xbox 360 and family-friendly game titles, including the upcoming “Kinect: Disneyland Adventures,” “Kinect Sports: Season 2” and “Dance Central 2.”
The event not only featured the newest game titles for Kinect, but also showcased the next generation of technology innovators – kids! Members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington were in attendance to talk about video games they created with Kodu Game Lab, a program designed to help youth learn more about computer programming and other topics in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
The Get Game Smart program was another highlight of the evening, as the team helped attendees learn how Microsoft and other leading children’s advocacy organizations are educating parents on the resources available to help establish safer gaming and online habits in their homes.
Visit our Twitter and Facebook pages to get more details and photos of all the fun!