The STEM Challenge at Remake Learning Days


Photo: Heather Mallak

The synergy in Pittsburgh that extends across three rivers, regional institutions, learning spaces, and communities in support of local youth was in the spotlight during May 9-15, 2016. Remake Learning Days was a bold vision to bolster over 300 events that took place throughout Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia with a culminating family-friendly rally at PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. All week long, Pittsburgh partied. We learning party partied. School marching bands welcomed visitors to open houses, fab labs demoed tools and techniques to parents, and hundreds of youth hand-built spectroscopes while dozens of game design students from across the city were introduced to the National STEM Video Game Challenge.

Thanks to generous funding from The Grable Foundation as the Regional Spotlight Program Sponsor, the STEM Challenge has returned to Pittsburgh in 2016 for a second cycle. Building upon last year’s STEM Challenge, the Pittsburgh Community Accelerator Project seeks to link regional and national efforts, deepen research and educational impact, and expand access to underserved communities. For Remake Learning Week, the STEM Challenge joined the celebration of innovations in learning by facilitating a series of video game design workshops for youth.

On Monday, May 9, I joined Susan McCoy for her classes at the Pittsburgh Gifted Center, a campus that hosts students from across the Pittsburgh Public School District. Susan has taught game design skills to hundreds of students over the past 14 years as part of an elective course that uses GameMaker, and we were delighted to share the STEM Challenge with her students throughout the week. Sabrina Culyba, Senior Game Designer at Pittsburgh-based Schell Games, one of the largest independent game studios in the U.S., joined us for this STEM Challenge workshop.

After I introduced the STEM Challenge to the class, we dove into Gamestar Mechanic as a design tool that students could use to create their own games. Sabrina reviewed the students’ games, observed debugging techniques (similar to those used by her coworkers at Schell Games) and talked about career paths. Each day of the week, I joined Susan as she taught a different group of students, who represented schools from throughout Pittsburgh. The students were evenly split between boys and girls, newcomers and seasoned gamers. A few were already familiar with the STEM Challenge, having attended a workshop at their local library or a summer camp at the Carnegie Science Center last year. Many were excited to learn that the 2016 STEM Challenge’s deadline is on August 15, and planned to continue working on their games for submission at the end of the summer.

We got some great feedback from the workshop series. Susan said that she felt that our presentation made her students feel that the work they are doing in their game design class was valuable. “Even though we use different software to create games, the idea of systems, components, rules, and space still apply,” she said. “The students appreciated that they are on the same track as professional designers.”

This event was one of many that will be held locally in the coming months as part of the Pittsburgh Community Accelerator Project. Please visit the Upcoming Events calendar on the STEM Challenge website to learn more.



heathermallakHeather Mallak is a multimedia artist, informal educator, DML Competition winner working on Public Studio, her latest project. She serves as the Regional Coordinator, Pittsburgh Community Accelerator Project, supporting the STEM Challenge.


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