Building STEM Skills by Learning Game Design

By: Alex Chisholm
Our journey to the HP Catalyst Academy began a little more than three years ago when we were selected as one of the first grant recipients though HP Catalyst, a program designed to encourage innovation in STEMx education research and practice.
We created the Game Design Tool Kit (GDTK) to help teachers, even those who don’t play games regularly or have any design experience, guide students through a creative game design process.  Our ultimate goal is to encourage new instructional models where teachers can develop coaching and mentoring strategies as “subject matter experts,” consulting with students, who see themselves as “gaming experts,” to design new creative game concepts.  Since the GDTK supports conceptual design activities and stops short of requiring technical or programming skills, teachers can use it as an instructional framework to engage students across the curriculum, from STEMx to English/Language Arts to fine and performing arts and language learning, among other subject areas.
The GDTK is comprised of four phases: Explore, Discover, Create, and Share.  Teachers work with students to investigate (Explore) a topic through an early research phase, a typical approach that might otherwise result in an expository research paper or class presentation.  Here, the research serves as a foundation for creative brainstorming among students, resulting in a creative game concept that enables players to experience and understand the topic that was researched; students collaborate, negotiate features and functionality, and apply critical and creative thinking skills as they dig deeper into the topic, looking at it from 360 degrees, to create an authentic and viable playful learning experience (Discover).  The GDTK then supports students as they implement and test a level or challenge as a paper prototype (Create) before students document their concept in a final design document or present their concepts as part of a class presentation (Share).
During the development of the GDTK, we worked with teachers who were already mentoring middle and high school students through the State of Kentucky’s Student Technology Leadership Program.  Additionally, we organized several weeklong “boot camps” at MIT where we brought teachers and students together to refine GDTK resources and more clearly define our professional development strategies.
As part of the HP Catalyst Academy, we now have an incredible opportunity to distill several years or research and development activities into a concise mini-course that teachers around the world can explore as they develop new game-based teaching strategies to engage their students.  Our free mini-course will walk teachers through the four phases of the creative game design development process as they prepare to introduce the process to their students.
While downloadable PDFs and videos will be available online for individual teacher use, we will encourage teachers to work in small teams, either locally or virtually, to simulate the collaborative team-based research and design activities the GDTK supports.  Since game design is a highly collaborative and iterative process, we want teachers to develop an understanding of the experience before they introduce it to their students.  Collaborating with other teachers also helps us grow a network of educators who are interested in game-based learning but who may be unsure where to begin.  The GDTK is a great starting point because it opens up opportunities for students to educate teachers about games as teachers strive to help students achieve specific learning goals.
Teachers can sign up for Learning Games Networks’ mini course or any of the other HP Catalyst Academy courses launching in June 2013 at
Alex Chisholm is Executive Director and a founding member of the Learning Games Network, a non-profit organization that champions the use of games in education and supports the design, development, and production efforts of both non-profit and commercial partners. His organization’s HP Catalyst Academy Game Design for Learning mini-course will help teachers guide students through a creative game design process.

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