Gamestar Mechanic is an online toolset, game, and community that teaches kids how to build games. It focuses on the art of visual design rather than on programming, as other game-making platforms, such as Scratch, do.
A series of manga cut-scenes and "missions" ask kids to play, fix, and make different kinds of games built around specific mechanics, like collecting points or jumping. As kids learn design, they unlock "sprites," or pieces, of the games they've mastered to use in their own game design workshops. Kids can share the games they've made with teachers and classmates, as well as the Gamestar Mechanic community, by publishing them to Game Alley.
Overall, Gamestar Mechanic is one of the best-documented and approachable game-design tools available to kids and their teachers. It partners with a number of major players in the emerging Connected Learning movement (such as the MacArthur Foundation and the Mozilla Open Badges Initiative), and its blog routinely shares useful game-based learning resources.
Kids learn in creative ways and are encouraged to be creative themselves. For example, they can customize games with their own artwork. Directions are clear and easy to follow; creations are real and playable. Kids have to think both mathematically and creatively to build games. It's a rare game that allows kids to feel true ownership over their work; Gamestar Mechanic fits the bill. Also, learning goes outside the classroom, as accounts are non-transferrable but kids can access them from home.
Once they're registered, teachers and students can play missions, design games in the workshop, and share games. Teachers get management tools to see students' progress, track their work, assign projects, curate featured games, and manage class profiles from kids' workshops. During registration, you can decide whether or not to ask kids for real first and last names or to rely on usernames. You can also decide whether to unlock all available content at once or require students to play through missions and quests first, with the content as a reward.
Gamestar Mechanic Teachers is an online community that helps you learn to teach through games. It offers tutorials, materials, and lesson plans aligned to both game design and Common Core subjects. It features lessons from teacher-practitioners, which address both humanities and STEM content.