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Resources for STEM Education Through Video Game and Animation Creation

Are your students fascinated by video games and animated stories? If so, incorporating game-making and/or animation-making in your classroom or as an after-school activity may be a successful way of teaching programming and other STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) content.

How is video game-making or animation-making an educational activity?

Students can learn a large number of skills while having fun making video games and animations. These skills can include:

Video game and digital animation correspond to a number of national STEM standards. Table 1 below includes a partial list of the STEM standards and skills integral to programming games and animations. Additional STEM standards can be incorporated by having students create games that focus on science concepts like ecosystems, or that incorporate physical principles like gravity and friction.

National STEM Standard/Skill Involved Agency Defining the STEM Standard
Dimension 1: Science and Engineering Practices. Particularly applicable are:
  • Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering).
  • Developing and using models.
  • Using mathematics, information and computer technology, and computational thinking.
  • Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering).

National Academy of Sciences. (2011). A Framework for K-12 science education: practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13165

ETS1: Engineering Design (all components)
ETS2: Links Among Engineering, Technology, Science and Society
The Nature of Technology
  • Students will develop an understanding of the characteristics and scope of technology.
  • Students will develop an understanding of the core concepts of technology.
  • Students will develop an understanding of the relationships among technologies and the connections between technology and other fields of study.

International Technology Education Association. (2000). Listing of standards for technological literacy (STL) content standards. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from http://www.iteaconnect.org/TAA/PDFs/ListingofSTLContentStandards.pdf

  • Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design.
  • Students will develop an understanding of engineering design.
  • Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving.
Abilities for a Technological World:
  • Students will develop abilities to apply the design process.
  • Students will develop abilities to use and maintain technological products and systems.
  • Students will develop abilities to assess the impact of products and systems.
Table 1. This table catalogs a variety of STEM skills and standards that can be addressed during students' creation of video games and digital animations.

If you are interested in learning more about the educational benefits of game/animation creation the Institute of Play, a non-profit focused on learning through digital media creation, has an extensive reading list. Level Up's Teacher Share is another resource for discussing resources and successes implementing game/animation creation in the classroom.

What kinds of video/animation making software are available? Are they free? What grades can use them?

A variety of game-making and programming environments are available for students to use for free, or at minimal cost. Several of them require absolutely no previous programming experience and can be used by children aged as young as elementary school. Other intermediate and advanced programming languages are more appropriate for high-school aged students who are ready to learn more formal programming theory. The guide to Kid-Friendly Programming Languages provides more details on the various software options.

I don't have time to make a game/animation curriculum. Are there any educational resources already developed?

Yes! Science Buddies has developed Project Ideas and resource guides for several fun, free game and animation packages. More details can be seen in the guide to Kid-Friendly Programming Languages.

Additionally, Table 2 below lists links to several free educational curriculums using different programming languages.

Programming Language Available For Free At: Description
Alice http://www.alice.org/ The "Teaching" tab has links to Alice-related teaching materials and a forum for educators to connect and discuss.
GameMaker http://activategames.org/resources PetLab's website, Activate!, has teaching materials emphasizing STEM skills for students programming with GameMaker.
GameMaker and Gamestar Mechanic http://www.scholastic.com/createvideogames/ Scholastic's website, Level Up!, has free lesson plans and worksheets using both GameMaker and Gamestar Mechanic.
Gamestar Mechanic http://www.gamestarmechanic.com/teachers?cid=scibud The Gamestar Mechanic website has an extensive curriculum for teaching game design using Gamestar Mechanic.
Kodu Game Lab http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?displaylang=en&id=18229 Microsoft's downloadable kit for using Kodu in the classroom or as part of an after-school program.
Scratch http://info.scratch.mit.edu/Educators Webpage with links to Scratch-related teaching materials, published papers, and a forum for educators to connect and discuss.
StarLogo TNG http://education.mit.edu/projects/starlogo-tng/learn Webpage with links to teaching materials for using StarLogo TNG to do a variety of tasks including creating simulations and mathematical models.
Table 2. Several kid-friendly programming languages have ready-made educational materials and curriculums that can be used for free in classrooms and as after-school activities.

What can my students do with the games/animations they create?

Students who use programming skills to create their own video games and/or animations may want to enter those creations in a local science or engineering fair. Students can also share their creations with larger audiences by publishing them in language-specific galleries. For more details, see the guide to Tips and Resources for Making Video and Computer Games.