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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

June 20, 2012 at 3:08 PM

Valve opens Steam for Schools, free games for education

Bellevue game company Valve is backing up its talk about the educational value of games in a big way.

At last year’s Games for Change conference, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell spoke about the value of games as education tools — not just “educational games” but high-quality, commercial titles.

This week the company returned to the conference, in New York, to announce the Steam for Schools program, according to a Joystiq report.

Steam for Schools is an educational version of its hugely successful online gaming network. Content on the site was developed with teachers, including some at The Evergreen School in Shoreline. Last year, a group of the school’s students spent time at Valve using its games and tools.

Valve now is taking applications for slots during the Steam for Schools’ beta test phase.

The free service is designed for students and teachers to use in a classroom setting, with non-educational capabilities of the Steam network disabled.

So far the company offers two games on Steam for Schools — “Portal 2” and the “Portal 2 Puzzle Maker,” which is used to design levels of the game.

This is a huge offering, far beyond the free copies of the initial “Portal” game that the company gave to science teachers last year.

“Portal” is a particularly apt game for teaching. Not only does it require players to solve physics puzzles, it was originally a school project that Valve discovered at Redmond’s DigiPen Institute of Technology.

Here’s how Valve describes what students can do with its games:

In the Portal world, students interact with physically simulated objects (cubes, catapults, lasers, etc.). The interaction tends to be free-form and experimental and as students encounter new tools and challenges they may develop an intuitive understanding of physical principles, such as mass and weight, acceleration, momentum, gravity, and energy. The games also put a premium on critical thinking, spatial reasoning, problem solving, iteration and collaboration skills, and encourage overall inquiry into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) learning.

Classrooms applying for the Steam program need a broadband connection and relatively modern PCs or Macs.

Valve also created a forum for teachers and it’s providing detailed lesson plans, such as “Introduction to Parabolas with Puzzle Maker” and experiments to calcuate acceleration resulting from gravity in the game world.

The lesson plans are free to anyone, whether or not they use Steam, at teachwithportals.com.

Here’s a screenshot of one of the lessons:

valveteach.jpg

Here’s Newell’s speech in June 2011 including video of the Evergreen students, via Joystiq:

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