The STEM Push
Improving STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) has become a key priority of many educators across America. Most educators agree these four fields will have the greatest impact on future career opportunities for today’s youth. Many also believe these subjects will greatly impact America’s ability to compete in future global markets. For these reasons, a number of significant grants have been created to help improve STEM education. Recently, a major initiative for improving STEM education has included a push toward teaching game development to youth.
Educators are struggling with the problems of motivating students to study these complex subjects – subjects which often feel intimidating to both students and teachers. Students often struggle to grasp intangible concepts when they lack a means of experiencing how these topics are useful in the real world. Furthermore, many schools are scrambling to find qualified teachers for STEM subjects at a time when qualified humanities teachers sit on extremely long waiting lists.
Why Game Development?
Educators have discovered they can offer both improved motivation and accessibility to STEM subjects by teaching game design and development. First of all, the creative aspects of game design make this topic feel more accessible to those who are otherwise intimidated by technical subjects. Furthermore, since video game development requires a strong grasp of math, logic, and technology; it provides an opportunity for students to learn these topics by applying them directly to the games they’re creating.
Recent Endeavors in California
As members of the IGDA Los Angeles chapter’s Education Committee, Joshua Green and I met with a representative of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). I was invited to be the game industry expert at a meeting comprising education experts from across the country. Together, we met at the California State Education Department to develop curriculum standards for teaching game design & development in high schools across California.
The curriculum standards were split into two areas of study – those under the banner of “Information Technology” and those under the banner of the arts. Still, each version studies both the art and science of game development. California curriculum standards are entirely optional guidelines for teachers; even so, we worked hard to ensure the standards would be clear, instructive, and open-ended enough so teachers can easily incorporate them into their lesson plans.
The curriculum we developed was essentially broken down into the following ten areas:
- History of Games
- Game Design
- Game Programming
- Game Art & Audio
- Game Testing
- Game Production
- Game Business, Marketing, and Localization
- Impact of Games in the World
- Careers in the Games Industry
- Team Project
It is important to remember that only the basics of each of these subjects will likely be covered in schools. Only time will tell how well these curriculum work when enacted in public schools.
Game development requires a diverse workforce of talented people with a broad range of deep skills. Teaching game development requires someone having a firm grasp of all aspects of game development; plus having the patience, creativity, and communication skills necessary to teach them. The next step is to find ways to help those who will teach these subjects. That, in and of itself, is a challenge.
The public school system isn’t the only place game development is helping to improve the state of STEM education in the USA. The Girl Scouts of America received grants to teach STEM workshops in areas where it was most needed. This summer, Girl Scouts across Los Angeles County gathered together to take part in one of these all day workshops comprising 4 topic sessions. I taught for the session on Computer Science. Unsurprisingly, the students took a great interest in hearing me talk about game development. The Girl Scouts have since demonstrated a strong interest in furthering the education of game development among the girls and young ladies they serve.
Game Development education is becoming increasingly important to improving STEM education amongst America’s youth. The endeavors mentioned here are just the first steps we’re seeing in one state. With the continued support of the IGDA, this trend in education is likely to continue spreading to other states. For those of us in game development, this means graduates who have a deeper understanding and appreciation for both games and game development. Just imagine what games this next generation will be able to create. Personally, I’m excited for the future of game development!
More from the Games for Change issue of the IGDA Newsletter
- Upcoming Trends in Social Impact Games, Emily Treat
- Teaching Games Through the A.G.E. Framework, Roberto Dillon
- Improving STEM Education Through Game Development, Brandii R. Grace
- IndieSpective: Indies for Change, Robert Madsen
- Game Design Aspect of the Month: The Clint Eastwood of Video Games, Asi Burak
- Gamification in Japan, Kenji Ono
- Student Beat: Column Reboot, Luke Dicken
- Sponsored: EA’s “Life in a Day” Campaign
- Sponsored: Montreal International Game Summit