A Day at the Museum: The National STEM Video Game Challenge Launches with a Series of Workshops That Teach Kids to Make Video Games

Students at a workshop at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

On a bright sunny morning after a February snowstorm, kids and their parents were lined up outside the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in Manhattan. But they weren’t there solely to see the many museum treasures. They were there to attend a workshop to make video games that they will enter into the National STEM Video Game Challenge. The excitement was palpable as the kids funneled into a room outfitted with laptops.

“Do you have an idea for a video game you’d like to make?” the workshop facilitator asked one of the kids.

“I have A LOT of ideas!” she replied.

She wasn’t alone. The kids were bursting with ideas, eager to learn what it takes to make the video games they love.

One of the many benefits of holding game making workshops at places like AMNH is the access to science educators on the museum’s staff. Enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable, they create the bridge between game making skills and the principles that play out all around us in the natural and man-made world. The kids learned about how a healthy system functions and how the components of the natural world work together in harmony. To give the kids hands-on science experience, they were taken on a guided tour of the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, the crown jewel of the AMNH’s exhibits. In the Hall of Ocean Life, kids and their parents realized just how magical our world really is and how important is it for us to care for it.

What is the National STEM Video Game Challenge?

The National STEM Video Game Challenge, presented by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and E-Line Media, launched on February 11th. The Challenge, now in its third year, aims to pique interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) among our nation’s youth by tapping into students’ enthusiasm for playing and making video games. Students use free, open-source software to create playable video games or a written video game design document rather than a playable video game. Details about all of these options are available at http://stemchallenge.org. The competition is open to middle school and high school students in grades 5 – 12 through April 24, 2013 and is free to enter.

How do kids create games and enter the Challenge?

Details on how to enter, game design resources, and a calendar of upcoming workshops on creating games are available at www.stemchallenge.org. Among the game design resources are video tutorials, links to open-source game-making software that can be downloaded free of charge to any computer, and toolkits for parents, teachers, librarians, afterschool program facilitators, and mentors to help kids create their games.

Game workshops are underway across the country.

The workshop at the AMNH was one of over 20 workshops being staged across the country this month and next month to promote the Challenge. In New York City, the partnerships are run by E-Line in cooperation with Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust and Global Kids. These groups have trained high school youth ambassadors to teach younger kids how to create games. They learn the principles of game creation as well as the technical skills needed to use Gamestar Mechanic, one of the free, open-source game making platforms that can be used to enter the Challenge.

And there are prizes, too!

One middle school and one high school winner will be selected for each game creation platform. All winners will receive an AMD-powered laptop computer including game design and educational software. Each winner’s sponsoring organization will receive a cash prize of $2000. They will also be honored at a culminating event in New York City in June.


Youth leaders from Global Kids lead a workshop at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

With our world becoming increasingly complex, science, technology, engineering, and math are playing a larger and larger role in our daily lives. Soon, having a deep understanding of these subjects could be as much of a requirement for employment as knowing how to use basic computer programs like Excel and Microsoft Word. In short, STEM knowledge will become a part of every professional field. People who build products and services using STEM knowledge, or who at the very least understand at a deep level how technology works, will have the greatest influence over the global economy.

Why use video games to teach STEM skills?

The best way to engage children with technology in a healthy, meaningful way is through games that are fun to play and teach them important skills like reading, writing, language development, design, systems-based learning, creativity, and collaboration. The National STEM Video Game Challenge hopes to motivate STEM learning by leveraging students’ natural excitement to play and make video games. With these skills in their back pockets, they will not only have a better understanding of the world around them but will be able to shape the world in which they wish to live. They will be empowered to build strong, healthy communities and they will be able to connect with, learn from, and share their experiences with people across the globe.

What kind of impact does the Challenge have on students?

More than 3,700 middle and high school youth participated in the 2012 Challenge, a 650% increase over its inaugural year. Twenty-eight youth were selected as winners last year and two winners from the inaugural year of the competition were invited to showcase their games at the White House Science Fair in February 2012. The Challenge opens up a whole new world for kids, showing them the opportunities that await them in professional STEM fields.

“I consider winning the STEM challenge to be one of the best achievements of my life. Creating the game opened my eyes to the world of computers, which I had never even considered to be interesting before,” said Julia Weingaertner, Middle School category winner, 2012 National STEM Challenge.

Sponsors make the Challenge possible.

The STEM Challenge is supported by title sponsors the AMD Foundation, Microsoft’s Xbox 360, the Entertainment Software Association and national community sponsors the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust. We are grateful for their generous support.


For additional information on the Challenge, please contact any of the following members of the STEM Challenge Team:

Christa Avampato
Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop

Kerri Schlottman
E-Line Media

Press inquiries:
Jodi Lefkowitz
Sesame Workshop


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