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STEM Challenge: Seeking the future

Posted by Michael Warshaw  February 27, 2013 03:40 PM

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By Christa Avampato, National STEM Video Game Challenge, Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop

How do you motivate kids so they want to build up their skills in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics – better known as STEM?

Make a game of it, of course.

The best way to engage children with technology in a healthy, meaningful way is through games that are fun to play and teach them important skills like reading, writing, language development, design, systems-based learning, creativity, and collaboration. The National STEM Video Game Challenge hopes to motivate such learning by leveraging the natural excitement students experience when they play and make video games.

Why is it important to encourage STEM learning? With these skills in their pockets, students will have a better understanding of the world around them, and will even be able to shape the world around them. They will be empowered to build strong, healthy communities, and they will be able to connect with, learn from, and share their experiences with people across the globe.

Right now, the National STEM Video Game Challenge, presented by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and E-Line Media is accepting submissions of original video games and game designs. The challenge, now in its third year, is open to middle school and high school students in grades 5 – 12 through April 24, 2013. It is free to enter; one middle school and one high school winner will be selected for each game creation platform. Each winner will receive an AMD-powered laptop computer, including game design and educational software. And each winner’s sponsoring organization will receive a cash prize of $2,000.

The National STEM Video Game Challenge was inspired by President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate Campaign,” an initiative promoting science, technology, engineering, and math education. More than 3,700 middle and high school youth participated in the 2012 Challenge, a 650 percent increase over its inaugural year. There were 28 winners last year and two winners from the inaugural year of the competition who were invited to showcase their games at the White House Science Fair in February 2012.

STEM skills are critical to ensure we create graduates who can compete in an increasingly global marketplace. The world is becoming increasingly complex, with science, technology, engineering, and math playing larger and larger roles in our daily lives. Soon, having a deep understanding of these subjects could be as much of a requirement for employment as knowing how to use basic computer programs. In short, STEM knowledge will become a part of every professional field. People who build products and services using STEM knowledge, or who at the very least understand at a deep level how technology works, will have the greatest influence over the global economy.

In three years, the challenge has been able to reach thousands of kids, showing them the opportunities that await in professional STEM fields. "I consider winning the STEM challenge to be one of the best achievements of my life,” said Julia Weingaertner, Middle School category winner, 2012 National STEM Challenge. “Creating the game opened my eyes to the world of computers, which I had never even considered to be interesting before.”

Students can get help learning how to design their own games from industry pros at E-Line Media, a workshop for middle and high school students. The event is free of charge, and sponsored by the Institute of Museum & Library Services. It will be held at the Lynn Public Library, 5 North Common Street on Thursday, March 14, from 5:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Details on how to enter the challenge, game design resources, and a calendar of upcoming workshops on creating games are available at www.stemchallenge.org. Among the game design resources are video tutorials, links to open-source game-making software that can be downloaded free of charge to any computer, and toolkits for parents, teachers, librarians, afterschool program facilitators, and mentors to help kids create their games.

The STEM Challenge is supported by title sponsors the AMD Foundation, Microsoft’s Xbox 360, the Entertainment Software Association and national community sponsors the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust.

Educators and public officials say time and time again that this nation needs to improve student STEM skills to build a competitive society prepared to take on the future. Here’s a way to help that will help create a better future, and is fun besides.

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The State of Play, organized by MassDiGI, features posts by digital and video game industry insiders writing about creativity, innovation, research, and development in the Massachusetts digital entertainment and apps sectors.

MassDiGI, based at Becker College, is a statewide center for academic cooperation, entrepreneurship, and economic development across the local games ecosystem. Follow along @Mass_DiGI.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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MassDiGI 8-24 287w872.jpgThe State of Play, organized by MassDiGI, features stories by digital and video game developers and business insiders. Follow along @mass_digi.

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