Fun: The Missing Ingredient
Online games make school relevant and engaging.
We have an epidemic of boredom in many of our traditional schools in America. According to the most recent High School Survey of Student Engagement, a full two-thirds of American youth report being bored in class. Yet, those same students who are tuning out in the classroom are turning on to video games and other forms of digital media outside of school. Based on data from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 46 million kids between the ages of 5 and 17 are gaming (along with 50 percent of their parents). Why are online games so popular? The short answer is they are fun and engaging.
So what if we could make school relevant, and excite kids to learn while building important skills in our future workforce? What if we could make learning science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fun? According to the National Science Foundation’s estimate, 80 percent of the jobs created in the next decade will require science and math skills.
For AMD and other technology companies, engineers are our lifeblood and the brains behind our technological innovations. And STEM is their oxygen. Because of that, the AMD Foundation launched an education initiative in 2008 called AMD Changing the Game. The global program is designed to excite kids to learn by enabling them to create their own video games on social issues, such as health and the environment. In the process, they learn problem solving, critical thinking, language skills, teamwork, and the all-important STEM skills. They also become more globally aware. Even better, they get so engaged in the game development process that they don’t realize they are learning. We call that “stealth learning.”
Since launching the initiative, we’ve reached 75,000 students in 6 countries, with more than 7,500 games created by students ages 12 to 18. We’ve experimented with a number of formats, including in-school classes, after school programs, summer camps, online portals, and competitions. It turns out that all of them can work, which makes the program highly flexible.
Another successful initiative is the National STEM Video Challenge, which launched last year in conjunction with President Obama’s Digital Promise Initiative. Sponsors of the Challenge include the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, E-Line Media, the Entertainment Software Association, Microsoft’s Xbox 360, and CPB-PBS Kids-Ready-to-Learn Initiative. This impressive group of forward-thinking organizations understands that game design and STEM learning is a winning combination. The Challenge received more than 3,700 game submissions representing a seven-fold increase in entries compared to last year. In many cases, teachers signed up entire classes to take the Challenge and integrated the game design effort into their coursework. I was fortunate enough to attend the awards ceremony at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where 28 middle- and high-school student winners from 11 states and the District of Columbia were celebrated for their accomplishments and creativity.
It was truly amazing to see the quality of games created by this new cadre of potential engineers and scientists who already know that STEM can be fun!
“We worked so hard on the game [submission for the National STEM Video Game Challenge],” said Julia Weingaertner, an eighth grader at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in New Jersey and one of the winners of the Challenge. “And then to see it actually working … it was really cool.”