PBS KIDS STEM Video Game Challenge

by Kelsey Savage, PBS Interactive

As a kid, my typical Sunday morning featured chocolate chip pancakes that were drenched in maple syrup and a marathon viewing session of my favorite PBS shows, like Arthur, Zoom and The Magic School Bus. But after I had memorized every episode of those shows, my parents turned to computer games to keep me occupied. In particular, I remember spending hours with the zany Mrs. Frizzle, her students and their anthropomorphic bus. While I viewed my time in front of the computer as fun and playful, I was totally oblivious to the fact that I was also absorbing lots of information about the human body, outer space, geography and the environment. Besides that, the game’s interactive nature taught me decision-making and problem-solving skills.
It seems that, as technology becomes a larger part of the learning experience, video games like the ones that shaped my childhood are being incorporated into more and more classrooms. David Lowenstein, Senior Director of Ready to Learn at PBS, explained that when video games are properly designed, they can be “highly-effective teaching tools, especially when coupled with resources that help educators integrate the games in to formal and informal learning environments.” Now, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and PBS KIDS Ready to Learn Initiative is encouraging people of all ages to build games that develop early math skills for children ages 4-8, in conjunction with President Obama’s Education to Innovate Campaign and the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge. The Challenge, as David explains, is to “incentivize educators and students to create video games using free on-line game-making platforms like Gamestar Mechanic,” particularly around subjects in the science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) realm.
As part of this effort, CPB and PBS KIDS will be hosting a webinar for teachers on Thursday, February 16, 2012 from 4:00-5:00pm EST that will demonstrate how to enter the PBS KIDS Stream of the National STEM Video Game Challenge using GameStar Mechanic to make their own educational game for children age 4-8, even without knowledge of computer coding. Besides this, PBS KIDS has a lot of relevant material available for game-makers online—like examples of successful early education math games and information about the contest.

Already, Lowenstein says, “lots of cool content has been generated through Gamestar Mechanic including games about pollution and world peace.” Twelve PBS affiliated stations (Twin Cities Public Television, WBGU, WCNY, WHRO, WKAR, KLRU, WQED, WUSF, WVPT, WXEL, WXXI, and UNC-TV) have garnered attention for this initiative through on air and community promotions. Lowenstein notes that “the response has been fantastic, although we’d love to see more students and educators submitting games to the PBS KIDS stream.” The contest ends March 12, so be sure to encourage your constituents and local educators to see what kinds of math games they can develop for a younger generation.

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