30 Game Development Resources for K-12 Teachers

game development guide

Gaming is one of the top ways K-12 students spend their free time, so it makes sense to use the activity as a way to engage students in the classroom. With the increasing demand for STEM education in the job market, teaching game development may also be a tool to help students realize the power and potential of coding.

According to a 2020 report by Gallup, “Teachers, principals, and superintendents think that offering computer science courses is just as important to a student’s future as other required subjects. Consistent with the findings from the 2016 study, majorities of superintendents (75%), principals, (73%) and public school teachers (66%) say offering computer science courses is just as important as offering core curricular subjects such as English, math, history, and science.”

While there are many schools that offer computer science electives and magnet programs, there are ways to include coding and other game development principles into a variety of subjects like language arts, mathematics, and more.

4 Reasons to Include Game Development in Your Curriculum

Designing digital games is a great way to expose students to STEM and the growing gaming industry. According to a report by Juniper Research, the gaming industry generated $155 billion in revenue in 2020 and is predicted to generate revenues of over $260 billion by 2025. With STEM education more important than ever, these concepts go far beyond attempting to pique your student’s interest by building practical skills.

Here are four of the top reasons so many teachers are including game development in their lesson plans and curricula.

1. Expose learners to important STEM concepts early

Including game development in your curriculum can help you engage students in projects that will expose them to:

  • Coding
  • Algorithms
  • Interface design
  • User experience
  • Problem-solving
  • Storytelling

All of these skills match up with growing jobs in the tech field in the coming years. Giving students the opportunity to master them early can help build their confidence in preparation for higher education and professional pursuits.

2. Introduce the design-thinking process

Interaction Design Foundation defines design thinking as “a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. Involving five phases — Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test — it is most useful to tackle problems that are ill-defined or unknown.”

Learning the design-thinking process will help students understand the underpinnings of UX/UI design, which will empower them to continue their exploration of this relevant field of study.

3. Emphasize creative problem-solving

Part of developing and designing games includes prototyping, testing, and creative problem-solving to ensure that the game functions properly. Teamwork is also a big part of the problem-solving process. Regardless of whether students pursue STEM-related degrees or careers, these soft skills will enhance their critical thinking abilities as they continue in their educational development.

4. Improve student engagement

Above all, game development is a great way to engage students with an activity that speaks to their interests. According to another study by Gallup, learning environments that consistently engage students result in “more students exceeding and meeting proficiency requirements” than those that do not. So, while learning game development fosters STEM-related skills in learners, the increased engagement can produce additional benefits for students in the long-term.

Top Programming Languages for Game Development

Game development today involves several stages, starting with concept development, working through an initial design, and then production. A game’s coding language is chosen following the development of the game’s initial design. Games are developed using a variety of programming languages depending on the platform (console, computer, or mobile) and the scope of the game. Additionally, not all games are programmed with a single language — they may combine several.

Here is a brief overview of some of the most popular languages used for video game development today:

C++ is an object-oriented programming language. Its speed, ease of use, and widespread adoption make it stand out as a highly desirable language. According to Game-Ace, it is widely considered the gold standard in game programming, and many call it the best coding language for games. Some titles made with a C++-based engines include the Assassin’s Creed, Doom, and the Bioshock series.

Java is a general-purpose programming language that is designed to adapt to an evolving environment. According to MasterClass, Java game programming is nearly universally compatible, making it incredibly versatile and one of the most popular languages used today. Video games made with Java include Minecraft, RuneScape, and Star Wars Galaxies.

HTML5 refers to the latest standard for HTML, which is an underlying code that web browsers render. Developers are increasingly turning to HTML5, which GameDeveloper calls the “future of gaming development” because of its web-based nature, offering added flexibility. Popular games made with HTML5 include Bejeweled, Angry Birds, Kingdom Rush, and 3D Tetris.

avaScript is widely known as one of the foundational technologies of web development, powering over 95 percent of websites across the globe. With the adoption of HTML5 for gaming, JavaScript has also become the core pillar of HTML5 game development in terms of programming languages, says GameDevAcademy. Popular games running on JavaScript + HTML5 include Browser Quest, Diablo JS, and HexGL.

Pronounced “C Sharp”, this programming language is a popular choice for developing a wide range of applications as well as video games. In fact, it is one of the main codes seen in popular game engines today such as Unity. Some examples of C#-based games include Pokemon Go, Hearthstone, Temple Run, and Assassin’s Creed Identity.

Resources for Educators

There are many benefits to introducing coding and game design to students but, for some teachers, finding the right lesson plans and resources can be time-consuming and confusing. We have put together a list of resources to help guide elementary, middle, and high school teachers through the basics of game development and how they can bring these concepts into the classroom.

Game Development Platforms

Listed from the easiest to the most complex, these game development platforms have been used by teachers and students to create digital games — from basic 2D games to more complex and coded 3D games.

  • Stencyl: With a simple drag-and-drop interface, and no coding required, Stencyl is a great place to start to help expose students to game design principles.
  • RPG Maker: RPG Maker is easy enough for a child to use, and features a character generator, map editor, database, and a forum to connect with developers and troubleshoot issues.
  • Scratch: Designed by MIT for kids 8–16 years old, Scratch uses a visual interface that introduces kids to coding. It also connects learners with a large international coding community for children.
  • Code with Google: Code with Google is designed for students 9–14 years old, and offers a cost-free computer science curriculum that anyone can teach.
  • Gamestar Mechanic: Gamestar Mechanic is a platform that allows students to learn, build, and play video games.
  • Spring RTS Engine: This open-source, multi-platform, C++ game development engine is great for creating 3D games.
  • Unreal Engine: Unreal Engine offers a C++-coded, full suite of game development tools for 3D games, television, and more.

Game Development Resources for Elementary Teachers

Students in elementary school are not too young to learn game development. There are many resources for teachers to introduce these concepts to their students, including:

Game Development Resources for Middle School Teachers

There are also many resources for middle school teachers to provide their students with more exposure to coding.

  • Google CS First: Google CS First is a resource for teachers that includes lesson plans and a block-based programming language.
  • Best Tools to Make Games | Common Sense Education: Common Sense Education offers 28 tools for teachers to use in teaching game design and development.
  • How to Teach with Games e-book: This guide from Filament Games, authored by teachers, helps teachers incorporate game development into their curricula. It includes lesson plans and content using video games to enhance learning and empower students.
  • Kathleen Mercury Teaching Resources: This resource was created by a middle school teacher and includes information about the game design process and includes links to teacher resources.

Game Development Resources for High School Teachers

For high school students, more advanced game development tools are available.

  • Codelicious Condensed Course: Codelicious offers resources for teaching game development to high school students. Their High School Computer Science Game Development Pilot delivers 10 one-hour lessons including coding, digital citizenship, and STEM career explorations.
  • Codelicious Year Course: Codelicious also offers a full-year course for teachers who want to teach game development to high school students.
  • Teacher Resources | Games for Change: This comprehensive guide helps high school teachers teach the basic concepts of game design. It includes an overview of game development concepts as well as lesson plans.

Lesson Plan Resources

There are a variety of ways teachers can incorporate game development into their curricula. Here are a few sample lesson plans to help teachers get started.

  • Video Game Design Lesson Plan: This lesson plan from Remake Learning introduces middle school students to video game design concepts through a week-long class, consisting of daily 2-hour sessions. Students are grouped into teams and focus on storytelling using a platform called Bloxels.
  • Video Game Design Presentation and Lesson Plan: This four-day lesson plan from TGR EDU introduces middle school students to the fundamental principles of game design. It covers the history of video games and focuses on how logic and reasoning are used to develop games. The four-day session culminates with each student group presenting their own game they’ve developed.
  • Game Design Challenge: This game design challenge developed by Legends of Learning with the International Game Development Association (IGDA) helps K-12 learners design games on the platform of their choice.
  • Game Design Activity: This activity, created by Harvard University’s ABLConnect, provides printable board games that students can use to design their own games. It emphasizes mechanics design, testing, and teamwork.
  • Game Design Lesson Plan: Google’s CS First team created this game design lesson plan on Google Docs. It includes a series of videos and 8 sessions for students to learn basic video game coding concepts.

Video Resources

For a brief overview of gaming in the classroom, check out these videos from teachers and researchers with experience in this field.

  • Classroom Game Design TED Talk: In this TED Talk video, Paul Andersen (a Montana teacher) talks about how using game design helped his AP biology students learn to work together and solve challenges.
  • Game Development for Noobs | Beginner Guide: Flow Studio published this video to cover the basics of game development. This is a good place to start if you are less familiar with game design and development concepts.
  • The Effective Use of Game-Based Learning in Education TED Talk: André Thomas is a researcher and, in his TED Talk, he discusses how the creation of games helps students conquer difficult subjects like calculus.
  • How To Make a Video Game: This video created by the MIT Media Lab gives a good introduction to how to create a video game and talk to machines using programming languages.

Additional Resources

For teachers who want additional game development resources, here are a few courses and resources.

  • CS50’s Introduction to Game Development: This free HarvardX course can help you learn about the development of 2D and 3D interactive games as you explore the design of games such as Super Mario Bros., Pokémon, Angry Birds, and more.
  • Unity Learn: Unity is used by leading game development studios worldwide. Through their Unity Learn resources, you can acquire the background, context, and skills to confidently bring your creative vision to life.
  • Game Design Resources: The University of North Texas has curated a free resource list for people interested in beginning game design. Explore free game engines, sound software, tutorials, and more.

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