Two teams of eighth graders from Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart have been named winners in the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge. The Stuart students are the only girls who won awards in the competition dominated by boys.
Winning Stuart team members include Julia Weingaertner, Sarah Lippman, Chloe Mario, Madeleine Lapuerta and Emma Froehlich. The six girls are among the 28 middle and high school students from across the U.S. who were honored for their original game designs.
Both teams were awarded prizes in the PBS KIDS Ready to Learn category of the National STEM Video Game Challenge. The annual competition seeks to encourage interest in science, technology, engineering and math learning by tapping into students’ passions for playing and making video games. The competition was inspired by President Barack Obama’s Educate to Innovate campaign. Seventeen games created by individuals and teams of students in eight categories were selected as winners from a group of more than 3,700 entries.
The girls from Stuart designed and programmed their video games as part of the coursework for 8th grade computer science class with instructor Alicia Testa.
“In January when we started this project, the girls had no computer programming experience. They faced a steep learning curve from the beginning. Not only did they rise to the occasion, they surpassed all expectations,” Testa said. “Working in groups of two or three, by the end of the trimester, 10 completed video games were submitted to the challenge.”
Weingaertner and Lippman worked together to design and create a video game called “Animal Inequities” that uses animated sharks and fish to teach the math concepts of greater than and less than. Lapuerta, Mario and Froehlich developed “Math Racing Mania” (shown in the video above) in which players get to choose a racing car to drive through roads by answering the correct answers to math problems shown on the screen.
“In addition to computer programming, this project required important skills, such as collaboration, communication, planning and problem solving,” said Stuart head of school Patty Fagin. “Research tells us that these girl-centric skills are invaluable to careers in STEM fields, including developing video games, a field dominated by men.”
Stuart has focused on elevating STEM education, beginning at the earliest grades, to show girls that science, technology, engineering and math can be fun and can open doorways to countless opportunities. School officials said the school strives for every graduate to be comfortable and confident in basic STEM skills, and ready to pursue a career in a STEM field if she chooses. In January of this year, Stuart announced the formation of a STEM advisory task force made up of some of the nation’s leading thinkers to help conquer the so-called “girl gap” in the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines.
“We are very proud of the work all eighth grade students put into the National STEM Challenge,” Fagin said. “In the end, they all realized that hard work and perseverance yield results. It is icing on the cake that not just one, but two all-girl Stuart teams received national recognition for their creativity and ingenuity.”
The Stuart students and their teacher traveled to Washington, DC Monday, where they were honored at an event sponsored by Microsoft at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Each winner was awarded an AMD based laptop computer, travel to and from Washington, DC, and subscriptions to Brain Pop magazine and Gamestar Mechanic. Each team will also be awarded $2,000 for their school.
Brian Aslspach, executive vice president and general manager of Gamestar Mechanic at E-Line Media, one of the National STEM Challenge presenting companies, was at Stuart to congratulate the students today.
The girls also received praise from a writer at Wired.com yesterday. Geekmom columnist Amy Craft wrote: “Honestly, these games are better than 90 percent of the educational games in the app store. That kids are creating games that younger kids can learn from gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, and that the winners of this particular challenge were all girls makes me feel like we’re headed in the right direction for getting more girls involved in future STEM careers.”