Taking Game-Based Learning (GBL) to a New Level After School

August 7th, 2015 by Deborah Fike

Contraption Maker isn’t only used in traditional schools.  Many after school programs across the United States have received free educational copies of Contraption Maker.  Many of these programs have the flexibility to tackle learning in a way that a school cannot, by focusing less on state mandated standards and more on abstract learning skills, such as perseverance, experimentation, and social emotional learning (SEL).

Take, for example, Fidgets2Widgets, a premiere after school program in our backyard of Eugene, Oregon.  Fidgets2Widgets is dedicated to marrying technology, physical activities, and learning in a unique learning space that blends computer labs and exercise equipment.  They have pioneered game-based learning (gbl) in the region by being the only MinecraftEDU certified program in the state of Oregon.  I’m not exaggerating when I say the Fidgets2Widgets founders literally wrote the book on why Minecraft is an important learning tool for this generation.

A group of Fidgets2Widgets kids try out Contraption Maker on Tuesday, August 4th.

A group of Fidgets2Widgets kids try out Contraption Maker on Tuesday, August 4th.

Which is why we were stoked when Fidgets2Widgets invited us to talk about video game careers and do a demo of Contraption Maker during their Strategy Games summer camp this week.  I gave a short presentation to 40 super enthusiastic kids ages 9 to 14.  Given my passion for getting more girls interested in STEM careers, I was very pleased to see an almost equal split of boys and girls in attendance.  When I asked what kind of careers the kids were excited about, gender did not play a role: there were many kids from both genders eager to learn about becoming a video game programmer, artist, or game designer.

Fidgets2Widgets Aug 2015 (1)

Deborah Fike, Director of Educational Outreach, talks about game careers at Fidgets2Widgets. Photo taken by Pam Simon

After the presentation, the kids dove into Contraption Maker.  About half of them started off going through the tutorials while the other half went straight into Make mode.  Eventually, most kids migrated into making their own contraptions.  By the end of the hour-long session, I had several eager kids wanting to show off their machines.  My personal favorite was one kid who ended up trapping several balls, objects, and, of course, Toolman Tim, into blue recycling bins in a complicated contraption that featured several dozen interactions.

Twin sisters go through the tutorials in Contraption Maker.

Twin sisters go through the tutorials in Contraption Maker.

Programs such as Fidgets2Widgets fulfill a huge need for project-based learning in our kids’ lives.  Having a space to explore and experiment, especially with similar-aged peers, is a huge bonus for this digital age of kids.  If you know of an after school program that would like free educational copies of Contraption Maker, feel free to send me an email: deborah@spotkin.com.

-Deborah Fike




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