Educational Games & STEM Toys: (Anti-)Gift Guide

STEM toys and educational games are big business these days, which means that every toy and game company wants a piece of the market – and many games and toys with questionable educational value will be trying to get under your Christmas tree (or other gift-harboring analogy) this holiday season.

Here are my thoughts on avoiding the over-engineered fluff and getting straight to the stuff that will actually encourage your kids to think, imagine, and innovate.

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STEM in America: Data, Approaches, and Questions (Part I)

Our economy needs STEM skills.

Not only does it need STEM skills, but it rewards people who have them – significantly more than those who don’t.

As educators, we have two major responsibilities on the STEM front:

  • Create STEM exposure opportunities for students who might lack access, and
  • Make those opportunities as rich and engaging as possible.

Determining how to do those things successfully and on a large scale (and not just on a case-by case basis) requires looking at some large-scale data – some of which we have, and some of which we don’t.

This multi-part series will look at some of the data we have, some of the problems those data suggest, some solutions currently in use and development, and where to look to answer our next questions.

Part I: The State of STEM

For reference, in 2012 the US resident population of 18-24 years old was 63% white, 5% Asian and Pacific Islander, 12% black, 17% Hispanic or Latino, less than 1% (0.7%) Native American/Alaskan Native, and 2% mixed-race (non-Hispanic). [Note: to my knowledge, all race and ethnicity data is self-reported, and Hispanic/Latino may refer to any race. Some citizens identify as more than one race or ethnicity, and percentages may not add up to 100 in all data sets.] Data used for the charts in this section comes from the NSF, and is freely available here. (Thanks, NSF!)

The 4-year college and university population in 2012 looked like this:Pie chart showing US 4-year college population by race, ethnicity, sex, and citizenship Continue reading

Beyond Jeopardy: 3 Adaptable Games that Make Students Think

The Two Problems with Jeopardy

I have played many a Jeopardy-style quiz game in class. And with good reason: quiz games adapt to many topics, and they stir up students’ competitive spirit, making for an easy kind of engagement.

1. But if I’m honest about it, I have to admit that with this kind of game, it is most often the strongest students who invest and engage the most. Many games result in winners and losers, but one of the benefits of using games in class is that they can give middling or even poor students a chance to be victorious – something quiz games rarely do.

Llama looking at question mark

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Create a Game Prototype Kit: 5 Versatile Components

If you create your own games, you have ideas that need to be tested. Create a lab space for yourself by keeping a game kit around, with some basic components in it that can be used for just about any mechanic you have in mind.

Game parts aren’t very expensive, and you don’t need much to get started. Here are five of the most useful, most versatile components, along with sources and, if you need them, even cheaper substitutes.

Meeps_Small

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