7 (Easy) Steps to Helping Your Child Be a STEM Game Designer

Today we’re happy to feature a guest blog from our partners at MIND Research Institute.



Gameathon LogoIt’s a universal truth that people enjoy games. And kids? They love games. So what better way to inspire an early love of STEM than through game-based learning?


Gaming can help foster STEM skills. “For people facing challenges in STEM careers, those challenges don’t switch off, it’s not like a textbook you can close and then go home,” explains Nigel Nisbet, a former teacher who now leads an educational game design team at the nonprofit MIND Research Institute. “When you’re faced with a challenge it’s something that you really need to be immersed in in order to solve and games provide that immersive opportunity for problem solving that you just can’t replicate anywhere else.”


MIND Research Institute’s third annual National K-12 Game-a-thon is currently open to students across the country, offering an authentic experience in learning by doing. Here are the steps your child can follow to join in the fun:


  1. Create your team. Form a team with one or more students – or by yourself – and find a parent or teacher mentor. Don’t forget to create a fun name for your team, like these past players: Fantastic Fraction Friends, The Mathematical Beasts and The Number Nauts.


  1. Consider a math concept. There are a number of math strands you can choose from that range from counting to algebra. This is an ideal opportunity for students, including early finishers, to apply what they’ve learned throughout the year and demonstrate a deeper level of mastery.


Don’t be surprised if students create games that stretch the boundaries of their mathematical knowledge. As gifted education teacher Becky Renegar from Pique Center Intermediate School in Piqua, Ohio shared, “I had two students who designed a skeeball machine for their game and in order to do that they had to determine the slope of the ramp. So we looked at the Pythagorean theorem – and these are third graders!”


  1. Brainstorm ideas. You can start by thinking about games you enjoy and what makes them fun. Card games, apps, board games and outdoor games are all options. Also, try to notice how math is already part of the world around you, in everything from cooking to sports. How can you incorporate a hobby you love into a game?


If you feel stuck, get inspired by fellow challenge participants by joining the conversation about the Game-a-thon on Facebook. Share ideas, ask questions, and check out what others are working on.


  1. Design and test your game. Teachers and parents can download the Game-a-thon Starter Kit, which includes questions to help facilitate the students’ game design process, as well as printable templates for game boards and other game elements.


Advice from a previous Game-a-thon mentor to other parents: “Help your children get started with ideas and examples, but once they get going, let them go and create!”


Don’t forget to play your game and test the rules, too. The Starter Kit includes a worksheet for game players to provide feedback to the game designers.  You can also learn from the insights of previous participants like Hana and Jemma who shared their experiences online.

Students build their own games at MIND Research Institute’s national Math Fair.

Students build their own games at MIND Research Institute’s national Math Fair.


  1. Make a video. When your game is ready, make a video introducing it to the world. You can check out the videos already submitted for the 2016 Game-a-thon here.


  1. Upload and submit. Have an adult upload your video to YouTube and officially submit your entry to the Game-a-thon by Friday, July 1, 2016.


Entries will be evaluated by a team of educators, mathematicians and game designers responsible for the ST Math software program used by one million students across the country. Games will be evaluated based on use of math themes (40%), creative game design/material (30%), originality (20%), and video presentation (10%).


  1. Comment and share. You’re now part of a national community of game designers, so don’t forget to share your game with friends, and to comment on games submitted by your fellow Game-a-thon challengers.


Every team member will receive a certificate of participation, a commemorative pin, and original artwork featuring JiJi, the animated penguin of ST Math. Five winning entries will receive a trophy featuring JiJi, have their videos displayed in the Game-a-thon Hall of Fame, and be recognized at MIND’s national Math Fair.


So what are you waiting for? Download the Game Design Guidelines and get started today!

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