In some of my posts about Genius Hour, I’ve mentioned Gamestar Mechanic. “Gamestar Mechanic includes a self-paced learning experience that uses game-based “Quests” to help youth learn how to design games while they build critical 21st century skills.”
Gamestar Mechanic, by far, was one of the most popular projects my 5th graders pursued during Genius Hour last year. A couple of my students had mentioned an interest in learning how to design video games, so I showed them the site. When the other kids saw what they were doing, practically everyone clamored to register for it, too.
Even though I am a huge advocate of teaching programming to kids, I know practically nothing about it. I am slowly teaching myself, but I left it up to the students to figure out Gamestar Mechanic. Of course, I “vetted” it by researching it thoroughly beforehand to make sure it is appropriate for them. Several reputable articles and blog recommended it, and I even found this curriculum from the Institute of Play, so I felt comfortable letting them explore.
Of course, it’s very uncomfortable to have your students working on something about which you have very little knowledge – but that is one of the feelings you must swallow and accept when you do Genius Hour. It’s inevitable you will have students who want to learn about something that doesn’t fall into your area of expertise. The great thing about this is that you can’t help them very much, and they know it, so they learn to problem solve and collaborate. It may go “against the grain” for many of us who teach, but admitting we don’t know something can actually be the best thing to happen to our students.
Gamestar Mechanic has a free account available for anyone who would like to register. There are also Education accounts that give the teacher the ability to track, assign projects, and otherwise customize the student experience. The Education account does cost (last check, it was $2/student). It is also available as an Edmodo app. I have not tried the Education account, but I am considering it for this year. I am thinking of including it as one of the benefits of “Leveling Up” in my classroom.
By the way, I insisted that anyone who chose to do Gamestar Mechanic during Genius Hour time had to teach the class something new about it when they were ready to present. Interestingly, we all learned each time there was a presentation, and the students were regularly asking, “How did you do that?”, eager to try it themselves. And, my greatest fear – that they would end up playing video games for the entire period for the rest of the year – was thankfully never realized! They quenched their curiosity in one area, and went on to learn other things.