STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It’s a phrase that few had heard ten years ago, but now, it’s everywhere. Even in caterpillar toys for toddlers. But after they’ve outgrown Fisher-Price, how do we keep kids invested in STEM? The answer is simple: video games.
Video games and STEM go hand in hand, and video games are the perfect Trojan horse to introduce kids to these growing fields. Kids think they’re just playing video games, parents are happy kids are getting STEM exposure, and hopefully, one day the kids realize STEM is something they want to pursue.
But how do video games and STEM fit together? How is sitting in front of a screen for hours actually teaching them anything? (Trust us, programmers would laugh at that question.) Here are a couple of ways video games and STEM make sense.
Learning With Games
The easiest way to introduce STEM to your gamer is through games designed for learning. While not every game enthralls every gamer, most learning games these days are fun and will keep kids engaged.
One of the most popular current games, Minecraft allows players to build their own worlds with small Lego-like pieces. Teachers use Minecraft to teach a variety of subjects. In fact, there’s an entire Google Group dedicated to discussing lesson plans and tactics. Microsoft, the owner of Minecraft, launched a website dedicated to teaching using the game. In a press release, they said,
Elementary students in Seattle are learning foundational math skills by calculating perimeter, area, and volume in Minecraft during a Saturday math program. Middle school students in Los Angeles are learning about major world religions as part of their humanities class. They are visiting sacred sites in their city, researching international sites and then building them in Minecraft.
And Minecraft isn’t the only game. FoldIt, a game created by the University of Washington, encourages users to virtually fold protein structures, and scores are based on how “good” the fold is. The game engages users and allows them to experience the STEM field firsthand, and it also helps researchers see different methods of folding proteins.
Whether they’re games you can learn from or games designed specifically for you to learn, there are countless options out there that will provide exposure to STEM.
Learning About Games
As probably most of us have experienced, learning is easier and more enjoyable when we’re learning about something we’re interested in. Since so many children (91% of kids ages 2-17 according to NPD), why not play to their interests? Many teachers are going beyond using games like Minecraft and FoldIt and teaching kids the science behind video games instead.
Companies like Microsoft and Gamestar Mechanic have developed curriculum dedicated to using video games to teach code and design games. With Microsoft’s Kodu, students can even share the game they’ve created with others – driving kids to do their best to compete with others over who has the best game.
Speaking of competing with others, there’s even a National STEM Video Game Challenge, launched in September 2010 by President Obama. The initial competition drew 600 entries, and this year’s competition has drawn more than 5,000 students. Middle school and high school students compete in separate categories based on the platform used to create their game. The Challenge provides resources on their website, and previous winners have visited the White House to showcase their designs.
With online design platforms (some of which are free), it’s easier than ever to get kids involved in STEM early on. If something bothers them about their favorite video games, encourage them to fix it on their own! In today’s world, they can do it.
Sitting in front of a video game screen isn’t necessarily bad! With learning games and game design platforms, STEM and video games go hand in hand. Instead of complaining about screen time, use it to your advantage. You may have the next great mathematician, programmer, or engineer on your hands.