Students excel in STEM gaming challenge

Students' video games explore a variety of STEM topics.

Twelve students in grades 5-8 are winners in the first-ever National STEM Video Game Challenge, a competition to motivate interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education by tapping into the natural passion of youth for playing and making video games.

The award program’s first year offered competitions for students and developers.

(See “U.S. ramps up efforts to improve STEM education.”)

The Youth Prize winners were selected from more than 500 entries and stood out for their ability to use STEM concepts to design engaging, innovative, and well-balanced games, with special recognition for those games that also incorporated STEM education and themes.

Students could create a written game design document or a playable game using creation tools like Gamestar Mechanic, Scratch, and Gamemaker.

For more on STEM education:

Solving the STEM Education Crisis

For more on educational gaming:

Can gaming change education?

Competition seeks ways to transform learning

Va. tests video games as teaching tool

The students each will receive an AMD-based laptop computer and educational software. A cash prize of $2,000 also will be awarded to their school or a nonprofit organization of their choice.

Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, announced the winners of the National STEM Video Game Challenge on March 30 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

“Three cheers for the National STEM Video Game Challenge for catalyzing this entertaining and educational approach to harnessing American ingenuity, all for the cause of science, technology, engineering and math education,” said Chopra. “It is efforts like these that will ensure our nation’s continued economic and technological leadership well into the 21st century.”
The Youth winners are:

Jacob Cothrun – Grade 5/6
Sepulveda Elementary, Sparks, Nev.

Jacob’s game, H.E.L.P. Earth, challenges players to improve the Earth’s failing health by creatively solving environmental problems. Jacob’s written design won in two categories: Written Game Design Document and Written Game Design Document Incorporating STEM Themes. Jacob loves cars and hopes to become a Formula One driver when he grows up.

Mark Fretheim – Grade 7/8
Austin Academy for Excellence, Oakland, Texas

Mark’s game, Deity, won the Written Game Design Document category. In the tradition of classic “god games,” players assume the role of the tribal deity of a small village who sets the rules for the world in which the computer-controlled villagers live. Mark’s hobbies include drawing, writing, and playing the cello.

Jasper Hugunin – Grade 7/8
Island Middle School, Mercer Island, Wash.

In Jasper’s Robot Commander, players are introduced to programming concepts as they provide instructions to guide a robot through increasingly challenging mazes. This clever design won Jasper both the Playable Game – Open Platform and Playable Game Incorporating STEM Themes categories. Jasper aspires to a career as computer programmer.

Annie Jacobson – Grade 7/8
The Nightingale-Bamford School, New York, N.Y.

Winner of the Playable Game – Scratch category, Annie’s Alien Of My Own lets players create their own alien avatars and explore a rich, interactive galaxy full of games, challenges, and characters. Annie really enjoys simulation games like The Sims and worked hard to create an entry that blended different game genres.

Kendall McGowan – Grade 7/8
William H. Lincoln School, Brookline, Mass.

Players explore the effects of global warming on rising sea levels by managing the ecosystem on the fictional Green Island in Kendall’s game, winner of the Written Game Design Document Incorporating STEM Themes category. Kendall’s computer teacher suggested that she take part in the STEM Challenge.

For more on STEM education:

Solving the STEM Education Crisis

For more on educational gaming:

Can gaming change education?

Competition seeks ways to transform learning

Va. tests video games as teaching tool

Muhammad Al-Fatih Ridha – Grade 7/8
Homeschooled student, Beaverton, Ore.

In the family-friendly Zuff’s Adventure, players guide a friendly fuzzball through a lush tropical landscape. Muhammad’s efforts won him the Playable Game – Gamemaker category. The oldest of four brothers, Muhammad also enjoys playing chess and swimming competitively.

Joshua Schoen – Grade 5/6
Georgia Cyber Academya, Canton, Ga.

Designed for 6- to 10-year-olds, Joshua’s The Quest won the Playable Game – Open Platform category. In it, players must rid the world of enemies by conquering minigames that blend action and puzzle solving. Hoping to be a professional game designer one day, Joshua is already hard at work on his next blockbuster title.

Bailey Sperling – Grade 5/6
Suffern Middle School, Montebello, N.Y.

In Extreme Depths, Bailey takes players on a journey where they learn about organisms living at different levels of the ocean. This well-researched game won the Playable Game Incorporating STEM Themes category. Bailey’s gamer dad helped her test her game, declaring it “a lot harder” than he thought.

Geoffrey Wang – Grade 5/6
Claypit Hill School, Wayland, Mass.

Combining different elements of classic puzzle games, Geoffrey’s Your Adventure is designed to help players improve their critical thinking skills. The game won the Playable Game – Gamemaker category. A wizard with the Chinese Yo-Yo, Geoffrey uses his cousins as an informal focus group in testing his game designs.

Tate Welty – Grade 5/6
Orono Schools, Orono, Minn.

Tate’s Outstanding Math Game won the Playable Game – Scratch category. In it, players get a crash course in math as they solve problems ranging from simple arithmetic to algebra. Tate hopes to work as a game designer one day and enjoys computers and soccer in his spare time.

Rhys Wynn Wilkinson – Grade 5/6
Ecole Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Manor, Texas

Rhys’ untitled game uses plants and dinosaurs to illustrate the relationships between predators, prey and sustainable ecosystems. His design won the Playable Game – Gamestar Mechanic category. Rhys attends an innovative French-language school with only 8 other students and is a fireballing baseball pitcher.

Shireen Zaineb – Grade 7/8
Milwaukee Montessori School, Milwaukee, Wis.

Created for a middle school audience, Shireen’s Discover… won the Playable Game – Gamesar Mechanic category. In the game, players learn about such fundamental science concepts as gravity, energy and states of matter. Shireen’s mastery of science lays a solid foundation for her future career plans as a doctor.

The Developer prize category is aimed at emerging and experienced game developers.

In that category, Filament Games’ Dan Norton and Dan White, creators of grand prize winner You Make Me Sick!, will receive $50,000 for their game, which teaches children about the physical structure of bacteria and viruses, as well as how they are spread. The game prototype can be played at

NumberPower: Numbaland!, produced by graduate students Derek Lomas of Carnegie Mellon University, Dixie Ching of New York University, and Jeanine Sun of the University of California at San Diego, won the Collegiate and Impact Prizes and will receive $50,000 in total. The collection of four games allows K-4 children to construct a set of skills that helps develop their sense of number concepts. The games will be available on different platforms, including the iPad, later this spring. The prototype can be viewed at

The competition was created with support from the AMD Foundation, Entertainment Software Association, and Microsoft,  and implemented by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and E-Line Media.

Founding outreach partners for the National STEM Video Game Challenge include the American Library Association, American Association of School Librarians, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, International Game Developers Association, and BrainPOP.

For more on STEM education:

Solving the STEM Education Crisis

For more on educational gaming:

Can gaming change education?

Competition seeks ways to transform learning

Va. tests video games as teaching tool

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