Monthly Archives: February 2013

Video Games in Class; A Professional Development Course-Part Two

Game Design Document Outline

Part Two:  Integrating the design of a game into your lessons/Using video game design to get your students to interact and learn great amounts from a local scientist.

1.  Choose a topic you wish to address.  I chose “neurology.”   You can choose any topic, video game design works well in English, social studies, and   other classes.  Choose a length of time to devote to game design.  One class period, 4 weeks, or 8 weeks.  Have students turn in drafts after 1-2 days.  Iteration is very important.  So get them iterating quickly.

2.  If you are not an expert on the topic you wish to address, find an scientist to participate in this program with you.  National Lab Network, for example, is designed to connect teachers with scientists for an extended relationship.  Graduate students and post doctoral scientists are qualified to serve as experts for this purpose.  The expert should help you choose the core concepts of the topic, and provide an introductory lecture on the core concepts.  Let the students speak directly with the scientist as much as possible.

3.  The core concepts become the basis of each game.  I chose 4 concepts for my neurology lessons:  Myelin sheath creation and damage, Neurotransmitter reception and signal integration (whether the neuron fires of not after receding chemical signals from other neurons), Long term change in neurons (gene regulation in response to signals), synapse function such as neurotransmitter re-uptake).  The students choose a process and work in small groups or on their own.

4.  Schedule the program for 4-8 weeks.  Ask the expert to come once a week to discuss the details of the topic with the students.  Skype may work, as well as telephone + teamviewer.  But each group of students or each student will need 15-30 minutes per week to speak directly with the expert, and will also need to be able to communicate by email.  This level of commitment is possible to get from a graduate student, or post doctoral scientist.  They are experts in the concepts and principles of their fields and have the capacity to research facts and details on behalf of your students.

5.  Students will need to decide what they want to present in their game.  They should make a list of principles and concepts they hope to teach their players.  They may also choose to make a list of facts and vocabulary to teach.  Review this list of concepts, principles, vocabulary and facts for their relevance to the topic, for their overall importance in the field, and for their appropriateness for the target audience/your class.  For example, if your 10th grade English students plan to design a game that teaches 4 year olds to read, you may question whether that choice will teach your students the concepts and principles you expect them to learn in your class.  A better idea may be to have the 10th graders design a game for 6th graders that helps them identify metaphors and decipher them.

5. Game design documents.  Show samples, discuss what they are used for:  For the game designer to communicate to the programmer, for the designer to communicate to the funder, for a scientist to communicate with the designer.

6.  Iteration.  Just like essays, video games require editing.  Leave time for it, and also encourage students to keep track of the game ideas in a notebook, and to save their version of the game once a week.  40% of the scheduled time must be left for testing with focus groups (fellow students) and problems will arise in understanding and troubleshooting them is part of the learning process for the game designers.

7.  Paper prototypes and focus group testing.  Game design does not require computer programming.   Games are usually tested with a paper prototype anyway.  Many types of paper prototypes are used.  Additionally, PowerPoint presentations can be used to create a series of “screenshots” to describe the game.

8.  Discuss whether a different design would have presented the same ideas, whether the game misrepresents anything, how technology development is a team process, and how the final project varied from the original designs.


End of the Paper Design version of Video Game Design.  The STEM Video Game Challenge has a Paper Design entry class, see their requirements here:


9.  Programming.  Games can be programmed in many different programs with varying levels of programming skills required.  Game Maker, Small Basic, Unity3d, Kodu, Scratch, Game Salad, Atmosphir are a few inexpensive programming engines.  GameStar Mechanic is a commercial product that makes simple 2d games, but that does not require programming.

10.  Iteration increases engagement of target audience as well as the quality of teaching.

11.  Assessing learning.  Your students should create a 10 question survey based on the concepts they expected to convey as they began designing their game.  They can design an evaluation of learning, using principles of good experimental design:  controlled samples, an unbiased analysis, statistical analysis, etc.

12.  Discuss whether a different design would have presented the same ideas, whether the game misrepresents anything, how technology development is a team process, and how the final project varied from the original designs.

Video Games in Class–A Professional Development Course Part One

Part One:  Integrating a game into your lessons

1.  Decide what to teach.  Start with your list of Principles and Concepts you want to teach in the semester.  Games are good for conveying vocabulary and facts, but their true advantage is in conveying abstract or complex concepts.

2.  Find a game.  Consult the list of video games at the  Game suggestions welcomed, and your reviews and comments needed).  Choose the game that conveys the concepts and principles (sort games by subject).  Make sure that the chosen game will work on your classroom’s computers (sort games by platform).

3.  Design your lecture to draw on game’s graphics, situations and names.  Use the video game as an introduction to the concepts.  Choose vocabulary and graphics that highly correlate with those of the video game.  Our data shows that students who play Immune Attack are more confident in their ability to understand graphics that are similar to Immune Attack than different styled graphics of the same types of cells.

4.  Address misconceptions.    Every model is an imperfect representation of reality, so consider which aspects of the game (graphics or gameplay) may be misleading and that you may wish to directly address in your class.  For example, the cells in Immune Attack are drawn to represent the H&E stained cells we are familiar with in text books.  However, unstained cells, and live cells under a light microscope do not look this way.   After introducing H&E stained cells, that look similar to the ones in Immune Attack, you could follow up with live cells pictured through a light microscope, for example.

5.  Play related games/use related models.  Playing a related science game will show the students a different model of the same thing.  Cellcraft shows a different mRNA model than EteRNA.  Both games about mRNA, but Cellcraft puts mRNA in the context of a cell and players use mRNA to make proteins.  In EteRNA, players fold up the 2D RNA molecules and learn about base pairing.

6.  Show students the game objects are real.  Find relevant Wikipedia pages, research articles, and research labs that address the principles and concepts so that students can find more information about the topics and continue their own exploration.  This is similar to  reading the story behind your favorite characters/tools in video games and movies.

7.  Have your students review the game at  Give them extra credit for a critical thinking essay.  Give them credit for discussing the role of mRNA in a cell and whether the game simplified the roll or provided a good introduction.

8.  Some fun follow ups.  Have the students write a report on anything they discovered from the game that addresses a current research issue.  Maybe they learned mRNA is related to a disease….  Have your students re-design the game, design the next level, or add new tools/characters to the game.  Ask them to explain why they choose what they did and what the player should learn from their additions.



Video games in Class–a Teacher Development Course Introduction

Video Games in the classroom-A Professional Development Course 

Video Games like Immune Attack present scientific concepts in an intuitive format.  Watching a cell react to a chemical signal in a movie like Inner Life of the Cell is helpful in visualizing the concepts of cell biology.  But it is much more memorable if we must control the cell’s response to the chemical signal and know how it is required to vanquish the enemy bacteria that are multiplying out of control.  Additionally, many jobs involve adding art to science:  Medical Illustration, video game development, and human computer interaction are all growing fields.  Creating and even using a video game and then discussing it are excellent introductions to these fields.


Melanie Stegman, Ph.D. is a biochemist who is creating and evaluating the much anticipated sequel to Immune Attack.   Additionally, Dr. Stegman has served as a subject matter expert for high school students in a summer ITEST program in Washington D.C for the past two years.  Here, students enrolled in the “Be the Game” class were learning to program games in Game Maker.   Additionally, Dr Stegman has used game design to teach molecular cell biology to high school students at the American Museum of Ntural History.  Based on her extensive experience in learning games design and evaluation, Dr. Stegman has created some guidelines for getting the most out of a video games in the science classroom.


Two methods exist, each with their own benefits and challenges.  First, more and more games exist that address science topics, and many games exist that were not intended to address science but do.  See Dr. Stegman’s continuously updated Learning Technology Blog at The for existing science-related video and card games.  Second, designing or programming a game can be an excellent project for students to work on with a collaborating scientist.  Below is an outline of what Dr. Stegman would like to present to any teacher interested in integrating video games into their science class.


Video Games and Historical Novels.

A serious video game is like a historical novel.  It is a story told in a setting that is somehow very accurate, but it is still a story, and it must operate under constrains similar to any other story.  A story must be engaging, or else it is not read and therefore useless.  To be engaging the story may be presented from a certain character’s perspective.  It may ignore some events.  It may misrepresent the passage of time.  Perhaps this is how the main character experienced the events.  A historical novel is different from the omniscient and disinterested voice in our textbooks, but it is a necessary addition if we are to create a deeper understanding of the past culture and history.


A video game can add such detail into science.  Just like a historical novel, a game may present the facts from a unique perspective, such as from the enzyme’s point of view.  This view may not be complete, but it can be enlightening and motivating to the student.  Additionally, games have a way of drawing us in and helping us process much complicated data while still making us feel like we are having fun.  Just play Angry Birds for five minutes.  You have learned about trajectories, momentum, and you have perfected by trial and error your skills (bird sling shot skills, in this case).  Because the game is well designed, you played through, longer that you may have read through a paragraph.


Kurt Squire writes that students learn a systemic of history from playing the game Civilization (1).  His work outlines a method, and a set of potential obstacles to account for, when introducing a video game into a classroom.  This workshop will discuss the use of video games in the classroom as a means of deepening student understanding and providing personalized relevance to facts to be learned.


1.  Designing Centers of Expertise for Academic Learning Through Video Games  Kurt D. Squire; Ben DeVane; Shree Durga.  Theory into Practice47:240 – 251. 2008.


2.  Students Designing Video Games about Immunology: Insights for Science Learning, Neda Khalili, Kimberly Sheridan, Asia Williams, Kevin Clark & Melanie Stegman.  Computers in the Schools, 28:228-240.  2011.


Immune Attack is free for everyone to download here:  Watch our video of Immune Attack!

Our Learning Technologies Blog:  All of these materials are posted here.

Our list of video game and card games that teach science.  Please contribute!  Add games, your reviews, your students can review.  Share your experiences with other teachers and read about theirs.

Our current game is Immune Defense.  It will be a web based game, or a downloadable game for Mac and PC.   Ead more about it at
Stegman Video Game in the classroom Professional Development course



I will be demonstrating Immune Attack and Immune Defense at the DC STEM Fair.  I will also teach some more professional Development classes on using games in your science classroom, so keep your eye out for that.

Right now, however, the STEM Fair needs some judges!  Are you a scientist?  Like kids?  Well, come help out and join the fun!  Register here!  Below is a description of what you will do as a judge at the DC STEM Fair:


Are you interested in encouraging young students’ appreciation for science? Do you work as a scientist, mathematician, engineer, or do you have a STEM-related degree? Are you looking for an opportunity to mentor young students in STEM?

If so, please volunteer as a judge at the DC STEM Fair!


The 2013 DC STEM Fair will be held on Saturday, March 23, 2013, at Wilson Senior High School. The DC STEM Fair is the annual citywide science fair for DC’s public, public charter, parochial, private, and home-schooled students in grades 6-12! The DC STEM Fair provides student participants with an opportunity to showcase their research skills and share their findings with local professionals and otherstudents in the city. Participants also have the opportunity to compete for a variety of awards and prizes offered by various government agencies, businesses, and professional associations.

As an affiliate of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), the first and second place overall winners at the high school level will represent the District of Columbia at Intel ISEF 2013, May 12-17, in Phoenix, AZ, with all expenses paid.

The judging period is between 9 am to 12 pm on Saturday, March 23, at Wilson Senior High School. Wilson is located at 3950 Chesapeake St NW, Washington, DC 20016, next to the Tenleytown Metro on the Red Line. We ask you to arrive at 7:45 am for orientation with a continental breakfast provided. You will be provided with clear rubrics forscoring projects that follow the Intel ISEF Guidelines.  (Rubrics can be found here:

You will judge display boards and interview students in grades 6 through 12 in various categories in science,technology, engineering, and mathematics. When you register, you will have the option to give your category preferences, as well as the division (grades 6-8 or 9-12) you prefer to judge.

The deadline to register is Friday, March 1, 2013. Register to be a judge here

Please distribute this information to scientists who may be interested.  It will be a wonderful experience both for you and your colleagues, and for our DC students, to meet each other and discuss your mutual interests in STEM as you encourage DC students in STEM!

Please also mark your calendars for the Elementary DC STEM Fair, which is scheduled for Saturday, May 18, at a location to be determined. More information about both fairs can be found at the DC STEM Fair website (

Science fair participation is often the first experience that inspires students to take steps to becoming professional scientists. Come see what interests the scientists of tomorrow! Please contact Sydney Bergman at sydney.bergman at with any questions.