Looking for ways to get teens interested in STEM? Try making games!
Game design engages teens in problem-solving, mathematics, programming, art, and more. And you don’t have to be an ace programmer to get started—lots of tools already exist to teach rookie designers.
“Gamestar Mechanic is a great web based place for younger children to start. Kodu, Gamemaker, and Scratch all offer simple interfaces for more experienced kids,” writes Jordan Shapiro, an educator and game enthusiast. Shapiro’s own young son is already attending game design camps. “He brought a design from his imagination to the screen using contextualized problem solving, critical thinking, and systems based storytelling skills,” Shapiro says. But the best part was when he got to actually play his son’s creation.
You don’t need to send kids to camp to get them designing games. The tools above are available at home, and they can be augmented with more complex programs like Game Salad or Construct 2. These days, it’s easy to expose tweens and teens to the concepts behind game design.
Creating games is an involved and highly creative process—perfect for young people. “Through designing play, in a context they find compelling and safe, students learn to think analytically and holistically, to experiment and test out theories, and to consider other people as part of the systems they create and inhabit,” say the creators of Gamestar Mechanic.
Game design can also be a group activity. The talented teens who won the 2013 STEM Challenge all worked in teams to make games. Not only did they hone their problem-solving skills, they now have portfolio-worthy projects to be proud of—and to include in college applications.
As Jordan Shapiro states, game design is “active rather than passive. It involves creation rather than consumption.” It’s a fun activity that provokes learning on every level, and the skills learned from game design are invaluable.