Nate Aschenbach is the Technical Director and Co-Owner of GameStart, an educational playground where students learn STEAM skills in a very unique way. This forward thinking innovator encourages students to develop creativity through coding and gamified learning.
Students at GameStart take on active roles in technology development through learning design, programming, and animation skills, while GameStart teachers make sure that students are using their own self-expression as well as collaborating with other students. Nate Aschenbach and his team from GameStart have presented at the Tedx Detroit Event in 2014 and have teamed up with multiple partners in the Ann Arbor area.
It All Started with Pi
After being a part of four other startups, Nate had been developing the idea of GameStart, a place for students to develop video games and software. He bounced the idea off a group of friends from high school who were in multiple professions, such as education, digital art, and computer science. Through multiple discussions, curiosity, and brainstorming, they developed the idea of teaching students basic programming concepts through gaming. By using rather “cheap” technology of Raspberry Pi‘s as computers, GameStart was on their first trip on the road to success by teaching programming through MineCraft Pi. The idea of educating students through games, or as they like to call it, Gamifying or Gamification, allows students to engage in an area that they already feel very comfortable in and allows students to be fully engaged and eager to explore.
Failure is More Compelling than Success
Being comfortable in an educational setting is extremely important to a student. When students open Minecraft Pi, it’s something that they are familiar with. Through GameStart’s classes, students learn how to quickly build items, develop programs that can reassemble houses in seconds, and write codes, or as they like to call it “spells,” to create great disasters such as earthquakes. But when students are writing their code, it’s not always perfect the first time. Nate has a great quote in his TedX presentation about student failure. “Failure in games is often more compelling than success.” Nate also states that when students succeed, that’s great, but when a student fails, the GameStart team wants it to be the biggest explosion of failure as possible. The amount of playing, exploring is the most important to the development of understanding, and failing is one of the largest parts of it.” Nate speaks about making productive mistakes when learning. When the GameStart team writes curriculum, they dig deeper than just the content that is to be learned. They consider: Where will the students fail? Where/when/if they make a large mistake, what will that mistake be? When that happens, can it become a teachable moment? To Nate, it’s important to make mistakes, but they must be productive mistakes.
Give Me an “A”! -- Turning STEM to STEAM
GameStart has been evolving ever since it opened it’s doors. The newest addition to GameStart has been taking the standard concepts of STEM and adding Art, making it STEAM. Nate understands that games like Minecraft on the outside are a simple 8-bit block style game, but when the you dig deeper and show students the concepts of character design, environments, and overall game development, there’s an entire world of art behind it. When in high school, Nate took the standard programming classes that were available to him, but he found them rather boring. He was writing code to calculate taxes, something no 17 year old is interested in. It wasn’t until he went to college that Nate applied code to projects he felt were important. Being able to code gave him an advantage, as well as an opportunity to help other students he worked with on projects. He now takes those same feelings and applies them to each student that comes through the doors of GameStart. Nate and his team try to individualize each lesson as much as possible to each and every student, making sure that the student takes ownership in what they’re creating, writing, and developing.
To Code or Not to Code…
Nate and the rest of GameStart believe that all students should understand digital literacy, but they do not have to be fluent in all the small details. Nate states that what students should learn can be compared to a civics class, but about technology. Nate believes that students decide what they want to be interested in by the third and fourth grade, and that teachers who support the culture of programming are just as, if not more important than a master coder. Half of the GameStart team is made up of professional programmers, but the other half includes educators, digital artists, and professionals from other fields. What’s important is that there is a solid foundation for students to learn, grow, experiment, succeed, and fail in more than one way.
A Bright Future
The future is bright for the team at GameStart. With the growth of STEAM, GameStart is looking back into game development as well as adding more classes for game design studios, where students can develop characters, game themes, and learn the steps needed to create these games. GameStart also wants to launch an opensource national program where teams of students and mentors would develop different codes to compete in a yearly, themed coding challenge. Nate knows that there is a great need for programs like GameStart, and that they need to keep refining their program. It’s cool to be a nerd and know how to code, and the team at GameStart is proving it daily!