Math Teacher Designs Winning Game for Students

by Martin Esterman
July 16, 2012

Martin EstermanHello everyone! My name is Marty Esterman and I am the Educator Grand Prize winner for the PBS Kids stream in this year’s STEM Video Game Challenge event for my entry, AdditionBlocks. I have been quite humbled by this whole experience-and I want to thank The Joan Ganz Cooney Center, PBS Kids, E-Line Media, and the AMD Foundation for all their support. I have met some really great people! I also want to thank my wife, Stacy, who has also been a great support and encouragement.

I have actually been writing computer games—well, since I was about 12 or 13 when my family got our first computer—16 K (yes, 16 kilobytes) of RAM and 80 K on a 5 ¼” floppy disc! That led me to my first career as a software engineer, and I wrote software for seven years. Since I “retired” from the computer world, I still like to write games as a hobby, and have written several other games for my students. One is a game to reinforce the multiplication rules for integers, and “Cross-Sums” which is the computer version of the Cross Sums (now known as Kakuro) math puzzles.

I had actually started working on AdditionBlocks almost a year before I  entering the STEM Challenge. I believe my idea was originally “IntegerBlocks,” for students to practice their integer addition, but the negative numbers never ended up in the game! (However, hopefully coming soon, now that AdditionBlocks is at a completed stage). After I discovered the STEM Challenge on the web, I thought that my game would fit best with the PBS Kids Stream (1st/2nd grade). After completing the research document for the contest, I learned the importance of addition fluency (speed and recall) in early childhood education. I am interested in doing a research project with the upcoming school year on using AdditionBlocks for improving student fluency.

The greatest personal reward from winning the Challenge has been the satisfaction and validation that someone other than my students actually “liked” the game. As I have been writing games for my own enjoyment for many years, I’ve never had a game “out there” for others to play. The result of that has given me inspiration and confidence to continue developing educational games and offer them to others.
Being chosen as the winner has also opened doors, and it is very exciting to see where all this leads. E-Line Media and AMD invited me to to speak at a teacher reception during this year’s ISTE Conference in San Diego, where I was also able to showcase the game. I met an executive from GameDesk (who uses GameMaker software to teach Common Core content) and the president of FableVision, who produced the online game “Lure of the Labyrinth.” The most touching conversation I had, however, was with a gentleman from Mexico who started his own school. He mentioned one of his teachers had an idea for a game to teach his students about the importance of handling money. He was very encouraged and inspired that teachers writing games for students is possible and does help!

Of course, the cash winnings have also been a blessing. My vision for AdditionBlocks is that the game is playable on all platforms—computers, tablets, and phones. Building the game for tablets and smartphones required about $400 in additional software expenses and purchasing a Mac for building on the iPad. I have already built the Mac and iPad versions, and I am currently making some minor gameplay fixes and updating some graphics to put the game in the app stores-hopefully by the time school starts in August.

This has truly been a remarkable experience!


Martin Esterman teaches seven grade math for the STEM Magnet program at Marietta Middle School in Marietta, Georgia. He has been with MMS for 10 years and has taught all levels of math learners-from advanced students two grades ahead to students below grade level. He has designed, implemented, and used all types math games and number puzzles in his classes at every level. Before teaching, he was a software engineer for seven years. Martin was awarded the Outstanding New Employee at Marietta Middle School in 2002, and recognized as one of the initial Georgia Master Teachers by the Georgia Department of Education in 2005. He is the winner of the PBS Kids Ready to Learn Prize in the Educator Category of the National STEM Video Game Challenge.