Video games to help STEM learning in the United States

STEM organisation teams up with Sony and Microsoft for national game challenges

In support of President Obama's call for a renewed focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), and the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) have teamed up with Sony Computer Entertainment America, Microsoft, and the MacArthur Foundation and announced a number of efforts to motivate students. The organizations are aiming to leverage the interest that kids have in video games and inspire them through a series of STEM-related design competitions. This is part of the administration's extensive "Educate to Innovate" program, outlined today.

"Computer and video games are one of the most effective ways to reach America's children and encourage them to stay interested in vital STEM principles. We are honored to have President Obama recognize the unique ability of games to act as a catalyst in generating new areas of growth in education," said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the ESA. "Our industry's lifeblood is the energy and innovation of new, emerging developers. To create the next generation's epic titles and incredibly immersive storylines, we need America's youth to have strategic and analytic thinking skills along with complex problem solving abilities. It is my hope that it will produce games that will have a lasting impact on the STEM skills our nation's students so desperately need."

Two different national video game challenges will be launched as part of the program.

GAME CHANGERS: This competition is a component of the 2010 Digital Media and Learning Competition, a $2 million annual effort funded by the MacArthur Foundation that advances the most innovative approaches to learning through games, social networks and mobile devices. SCEA, in cooperation with ESA and ITI, will team with MacArthur to support the competition which will result in the creation of new game play experiences that enhance STEM principles using new discoveries on an existing popular video game LittleBigPlanet - winner of numerous "game of the year" awards in 2008. Additionally, SCEA will donate 1,000 PlayStation 3 (PS3) systems and copies of LittleBigPlanet to libraries and community based organizations in low-income communities and make the winning levels available to game players at no cost. Applications will be judged on criteria related to participatory learning, the support of learning related to science, technology, engineering and math, and the degree to which assessment of learning is integrated into the learning experience itself.

STEM NATIONAL VIDEO GAME COMPETITION: ESA and ITI are also working with leading education stakeholders on the competition, including The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, Games for Change, and E-Line Ventures. ESA, ITI and their partners will challenge America's best and brightest, including children, to enter the competition with ideas that can be designed into web-executable, browser-based, STEM-related computer and video games in three age-based categories: 4 to 8 year olds, 8 to 12 year olds and 12 to 16 year olds. In addition to funding, ESA, ITI and their member companies will provide judges, mentorship, and technical expertise to the winning teams to maximize their utility, outreach and effectiveness.

Prize winners will receive a total of $300,000 and their games will be used in school and community settings, with a particular emphasis on reaching historically underserved populations including girls and minority students.

In early 2010, ESA, ITI and their partners will make a formal announcement of the competition's details including eligibility rules and entry procedures. Winners will be announced at the E3 Expo, the leading video game industry trade show event, which takes place June 15-17, 2010.

No specific details about the LittleBigPlanet competition have been released yet. In fact, SCEA marketing manager Mark Valledor noted on the official PlayStation blog, "We're uber excited to team up with the MacArthur Foundation and the Entertainment Software Association to encourage students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math in new and revolutionary ways. As announced today at the White House, Sackboy will be playing a big role in the Game Changers competition launching nationwide in December. Stay tuned as we'll have more info soon - unfortunately, I can't say or the Secret Service will sack-slap me."

Administration officials have said that the breadth of participation in Educate to Innovate is wider than in previous efforts, which have failed to produce a perceptible rise in test scores. In international comparison exams, American students are said to have long lagged behind those in much of Asia and Europe. "Reaffirming and strengthening America's role as the world's engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation is essential to meeting the challenges of this century," Obama said during his press conference at the White House today. "That's why I am committed to making the improvement of STEM education over the next decade a national priority."

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