Dear Parents: Why We Are Designing Video Games

The other day, I asked one of my classes of students what their parents were saying about the start of our video game unit. Mostly, it was “get off the computer” and “why are you playing video games for homework” and such. Hmmm. I felt like we needed to let parents know why we are doing what we are doing, and invite them to see some of our past work.

So, we worked up this note that we sent home on Friday.

Dear parents and guardians,

We are about to start an innovative collaborative project that connects science, English Language Arts and technology together through a video game design unit. You may be wondering what role video games and gaming might have in the classroom. Our goal with this project, which we piloted last year, is to increase vocabulary and content knowledge of a difficult Geology unit in Science class, investigate how game design theory can inform creative and informational writing, and engage students in literacies that incorporate but also move beyond traditional reading and writing. We are using a site called Gamestar Mechanic (  and students will be designing, building and then publishing a video game along a scientific theme. Gamestar Mechanic is a site that is built around teaching of game design, and as students play games, they are learning the fundamentals of game design, and earning the right to publish their own games in the Gamestar community. There will also be the option to submit their games to the 2013 National STEM Video Game Challenge. (STEM means science, technology, engineering and math). Last year, Norris students submitted about 15 games to the challenge. (We didn’t win but the level of competition was another motivational strategy for many students). I’ll provide more information when it comes available.
The goal of this collaborative project between science and ELA is to teach students how to understand and use the elements of good design, how to use a story narrative to structure a gaming experience, and how to connect good writing practice with game design theory. We also want to shift our students from their role as players of games to the role of creators of content. This shift is vitally important in the information age. We documented much of our work last year and I invite you to look at the website that we created. This resource has become a model for work in many classrooms around the country, and other parts of the world.
I also encourage you to look over the packet of project guidelines that students will be receiving early next week.

I’ve already received a few responses from parents, thanking us for the information and expressing excitement about the way the project is going to engage their children.

Peace (in the sharing),


  1. I love this whole idea! Do you have issues with students who may not own a computer or who are ELL students? Do you take class time to work on these or it been shifted in to independent work stage?

    • Hi
      We do most of this project in class, so that access will be less of an issue. And I do have ELL students. We modify the assignment but still use the gaming as motivation for the writing, with scaffolding help.
      Thanks for coming on by.

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