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Winners of the Year 5-8 playable game in SCRATCH category: Balmain Public School, with Ross Symons, CEO of 2019 sponsor Big Ant

Creating games develops student skills

Gaming experts highlighted the benefits students gain from creating video games in a panel discussion following the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge award ceremony at PAX Aus, one of the world’s largest gaming conventions.

Kartini Beghin from Scienceworks at Museum Victoria said science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is moving away from teaching each discipline individually, and is increasingly embeded with 21st century learning skills, particularly the four Cs – critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication.

“The only way we’re going to get really good at these skills is to give them that practice and to give them that space to practice these awesome STEM skills. We’re always trying to teach STEM in a real world context,” she said.

“You don’t have to be into science or coding to make a video game. You can just be a really good creative writer…or maybe a really great animator. There are lots of different roles in making video games.”

Laura Crawford, Lecturer in Games and Interactivity at Swinburne University said she sees a gender imbalance, and some students that have not been as exposed to games.

“I think that something the STEM Video Game Challenge does really well is encourage everybody to get involved and reward everybody for being involved.”

“One of the reasons I’m involved is to help the next generation of people who are going to be contributing to this industry, working in this industry and finding their creativity within it, to have a positive experience from a young age.”

A teacher mentor for one of the teams was impressed with how his students handled the challenge. “These students did it completely independently. Independent of lesson time, independent of school. They organised themselves, worked online, communicated with each other. To see that independent working, to see them collaborating, communicating and ultimately developing specialised roles within the team with respect for each other’s role and each other’s work…was a joy to see, as a teacher. It’s exactly what you want in education.”

As part of their entry, teams produce a game design document to identify and map out key elements of a game before it goes into production. It is a working document that helps to organise the efforts of the team and keep them working towards a common vision. The template for the game design document was developed in consultation with the industry, and is similar to what would be used at university level, or in a games studio.

STEM Coordinator at Churchlands Senior High School in Western Australia, Grant Pusey, said some students were so keen to start creating a game they skipped the step of the game design document, and had to create the document retrospectively.

“Their games are OK, but they could be refined, and I think if they actually reflected on their progress as they were going through, using the game design document, using a portfolio, or something that tracks their progress then they would be able to fix those errors. It is a really important document, and it is really well written, so it’s a great resource.”

Mr Pusey valued the authenticity of the challenge, saying, “They’re doing something they could be doing in 10 years’ time and making a lot of money from.”

The STEM Video Game Challenge

Nearly 3000 students in Years 5-12 from schools around the country entered this year’s Australian STEM Video Game Challenge to design and build an original video game.

The annual challenge aims to engage students with STEM disciplines. It is managed by the ACER Foundation, a charitable organisation underwritten by the Australian Council for Educational Research.

Challenge sponsors and supporters include BigAnt, Creative Vic, IGEA, Roccat, Scienceworks and PAX Aus, as well as universities, corporate partners and game developers.

The theme for the 2020 Australian STEM Video Game Challenge is ‘Scale’. Students from Years 5 to 12 are invited to create and code a game. It is free to enter, and registrations open in February.

The award-winning video games are available to play at Scienceworks in Melbourne in a pop-up arcade until 28 January 2020.

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