STEM has been a smokin’ hot curriculum topic for the past two years at least, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Traditionally encompassing science, technology, engineering, and math (handily acronym-ized as STEM), it’s having a major educational moment – President Obama declared it a national priority, television shows are popping up all over with STEM as a curricular focus, and there’s even the STEM Video Game Challenge. (It’s currently ongoing, for those of you interested. Check out the rules and details at www.stemchallenge.org)
As much as I love letters and numbers, STEM education makes for amazing and flexible games. Not only do games present opportunities to explore all kinds of natural phenomena, like the water cycle, genetics, or photosynthesis, but what I really love is that games are the perfect opportunity to foster and grow a STEM mindset, not just the rote memorization of facts.
What does that mean?
The scientific process is about curiosity and discovery, not just a process of hypothesis and testing. STEM education is also about inspiring in children the desire to find out on their own, not always to be taught. Games are a perfect opportunity to encourage kids to explore their environment, ask questions, and follow that curiosity beyond initial comprehension.
Games do this in many ways, some obvious and some less so. Below is one example. Then in Part 2 of this discussion, I’ll discuss more games that make my STEM education list and why.
New Super Mario Bros Wii
Games that allow players to work together to solve a game level foster cooperation, sharing of and listening to ideas, and providing constructive criticism. STEM is often a social, collaborative process. (How much groundbreaking research have you seen lately that was a solo researcher rather than a team?) Working together on projects, and fostering cooperative work, are key elements of these projects. Good cooperative games, along with proper support, provide players with opportunities to talk to each other, practice turn-taking, listen, honor each others’ observations, as well as practice other social skills necessary to be a successful part of any learning community.
Other games that fit this bill are Little Big Planet and Portal 2 cooperation mode. (If you saw my Wish List post, then you’ll be happy to know that I did, in fact, score Portal 2 for Christmas, from Anne, no less!)
In Part 2, I’ll delve into trial and error, holistic thinking, and data visualization. Meanwhile, if you know of other great STEM games, please let us know, either at KidsGotGame@NoCrusts.com or post below.
!!!Bonus Contact Option!!! Catch us at Kidscreen in NYC, starting February 6. We’d love to chat in person!
*Baby photo courtesy of makelessnoise