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Student Isa from Churchlands Senior High School’s winning ‘Team Stub’ at the Australian STEM Video Game stand at PAX Aus (c) ACER

Girls challenge stereotypes in gaming competition

20 November 2018

Equal numbers of female and male teams won the 2018 Australian STEM Video Game Challenge's six categories.

Winners of the 2018 Australian STEM Video Game Challenge were announced at an awards ceremony at PAX Aus in Melbourne recently and, for the first time, equal numbers of female and male teams claimed victory.

Three male teams and three female teams from around the country won the challenge’s six categories. Organiser and ACER Foundation Director Lisa Norris said the result was especially significant at a time of greater focus on increasing female participation in STEM subjects and careers in Australia.

‘STEM subjects are still largely regarded as male-dominated, so a key aim of the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge is to attract girls to coding and other STEM-related subjects,’ Ms Norris said. ‘The high number of female winners in 2018 is heartening evidence of a growing trend for girls to get involved in the space.’

The challenge invites students in Years 5-12 to design and build a video game along a unique theme which, in 2018, was ‘transformation’. Around 3000 students entered the competition and their entries were judged in a ‘blind’ process by educators and industry experts.

Team ‘Gold 1’ from St Anthony’s School in Wanneroo, WA, won the ‘Years 5-8 Open’ category with Unknown Dimensions, which they talk about in this story on ABC TV’s Behind the News. The game asks players to reunite three sisters scattered by a family tragedy across continents and centuries. Student designers Ava, Anastasia, Lucy and Paige cite the fairytale Rapunzel as the inspiration for the story, while design elements were informed by classic games like Super Mario Brothers and Pokémon.

Team mentor Ben Wynne, Year 6 teacher at St Anthony’s and part of its School Improvement Team, said the challenge taught his students much more than just coding.

‘Working in a group helped them learn about cooperation, being open to other people’s ideas and coexisting as team members while completing a project that took more than three months,’ Mr Wynne said. ‘The experience of being able to take an idea through the stages of planning, design, production and, finally, publishing to such a wide audience has really opened their eyes to the amazing things that they are capable of with a little hard work and guidance.’

Dr Grant Pusey, science teacher and STEM coordinator at WA’s Churchlands Senior High School, mentored two winning teams in 2018 and has experienced success in the challenge before. He believes the mentor’s role is to guide students while allowing them the creative freedom to experiment with their projects.

‘I find that the key to success is to encourage and motivate the students, but to avoid any direct instruction on what they should do – this is their piece of art, after all,’ Dr Pusey said. ‘My role is to highlight pathways to success, motivate students who are really stuck and always, always show enthusiasm and commend students for their efforts.

‘The relevant self-directed learning in coding, art, sound and level design will come organically.’

Dr Pusey believes an environment in which STEM skills are allowed to flourish helped his teams produce winning games.

‘Our teams were exceptionally diverse groups of students with a range of skills and abilities,’ he said. ‘The supportive and flexible STEM learning environment at Churchlands Senior High gave students the opportunity to really get to grips with the basics, learn new skills and produce some great games, all while having fun in the classroom.

‘From my perspective, that’s a great day at work.’

Scienceworks in Victoria is hosting a special pop-up Australian STEM Video Game Arcade where you can play the winning games for yourself until 21 December 2018.

For information, including the opening of entries for the 2019 challenge, go to https://www.stemgames.org.au/.■

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