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By David Conover

David Conover-finalI teach STEAM video game design at an at-risk high school in North Austin, Texas, and I use game-based learning as a means to expose the students to topics that connect to serious issues, such as the prevention of child obesity, sustainable energy, and health-based games. My students have the chance to construct their knowledge and grow their understanding through design thinking and serious game design. The students also have the opportunity to work with IBM’s Waston as part of the game design. For example, the student’s game will interface with the Watson Discovery Advisor, which will allow the students to ask Watson relevant infectious disease-based questions. Watson will do all of the page turnings, read millions of documents in seconds, cross-reference things like drug interaction, disease symptoms, and deliver related evidence that included visualizations of data and offered hypotheses to the student’s questions.

It’s important to introduce the students an early age to the variety of opportunities that connect their personal interests to a career that is related to math, science, pharmaceutical, or cognitive sciences. My students are at-risk high school students, and I want them to prepare for any research apprenticeship that might be available to them at a local college or university. It’s important that they meet a mentor and have a hands-on research project that exposes them to the world of research as they learn about educational and career opportunities in the fields of STEAM. These immersive activities allow the students to meet subject matter experts and much more.

It’s also important that these students understand the etiquette that is needed to survive in the corporate and higher education institutions of the 21st century. Being able to articulate your understanding, visualize your thoughts, as well as efficiently communicate them needs to be taught to not just students but teachers as well. Teachers and students alike should be interested in continuous self-improvement, goals, the evaluation of data, and teamwork that is necessary to develop professional culture.

Connecting my students to professionals from around the world is vital to developing their worldview. With the help of the AAPS Foundation, my students had the opportunity of talking with volunteers from AAPS and asking them research-based questions that relate to the video game they were building. It is this professional insight that adds the detail that is necessary so that this simulation is considered a teaching tool. The use of video conferencing bridges the travel and time gap and delivers an immersive engagement of learning and communication.

By using Minecraft in the classroom, students explore real-life architecture, practice ratio, and proportion, learn about survival, develop visualization and reading comprehension. Students address creative writing and problem-solving.

The health game that my students created is relevant and timely because it addresses global issues, such as infectious diseases and their prevention. These topics are problems that we have historically faced and are still challenges to our health system. We believe that you can learn biology and science through computer games and simulations.

Our program would be beneficial to classrooms around the country because we are blending game-based learning, discovery, inspiration, engagement, creativity, communication, and sharing innovation. Together we can transform a community.

David Conover is a serious game design instructor who teaches at an at-risk school in North Austin, Texas. It is his quest to get these students on to higher education or to get a job in the game design and computer science industry.