Connecting STEM and Play through Game Design


Dr. Sinem Siyahhan, Assistant Professor of Educational Technology and Learning Sciences hosted 125 Vista Magnet Middle School students on CSUSM campus for two-days to teach them how to design games.

“Games are complex systems. Designing them requires an understanding of not only the goal, the rules, and the game mechanisms but also how these components interact to create a good game experience for players. This is why designing games is a great way for students to learn problem solving, debugging, design thinking, and systems thinking.” says Dr. Siyahhan.


When Vista Magnet Middle School picked game design as their theme for their two-week summer camp this year, Dr. Sinem Siyahhan was thrilled: “This past year, I ran a successful game design after school program at the school, and the administrators and teachers were very supportive of game-based teaching and learning” The idea of hosting 125 students on campus as part of the school’s summer camp seemed unmanagable at first but with the support of the STEM Ambassadors, Dr. Siyahhan was able to create a fun and meaningful learning experience for middle school students.


STEM Ambassadors are outstanding undergraduate students who implement Maker programs in K-12 schools, and were up to the challenge of facilitating game design activities with Vista Magnet students while they were on campus. Dr. Siyahhan says: “Our collaboration was very productive. They learned about game design and I learned a bit more about building circuits. I think this is a good example of how faculty and students across two colleges can benefit from working together.”

As part of their campus visit and summer camp, students designed digital games like Pacman on the computer, a board game inspired by Chutes and Ladders where they integrated LED lights into their game design, and a board game for practicing math. To make middle school students’ game design experiences more relevant to their lives, Dr. Siyahhan shared their games at the North County Mini Maker Faire.


“It is really important to provide opportunities for students to connect with the larger community of makers. The encouragement and feedback students receive from the community is valuable because it motivates them to continue to design games, and ultimately engage in other making activities. Students were able to talk about their designs at the Maker Faire, and saw how people played their games. It gave them ideas about how to improve their designs.”

Dr. Siyahhan will continue her game design program at the Vista Magnet Middle School this coming year while expanding it to other schools in North County San Diego.

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