GameDesk Institute


The GameDesk Institute is the foundation of the entire GameDesk education ecosystem. It is responsible for providing the direction and vision necessary for advancing learning technologies and creating next generation learning products. It does this by performing core research, teacher training, at-risk community outreach, and developing 21st century teaching tools and techniques. The outcomes of this research and testing can be found in the various programs, projects, and products GameDesk develops — all with the aim to catalyze a major shift in the way society thinks about education.


- A multiplayer role-playing card game that makes learning civics fun.

Funded by:

The first interactive civics platform that allows you to play through the US political process anytime, anywhere, and with anyone.

Game’s Mission:
To deeply engage kids in the political process, revitalize civics education throughout the country, and secure the next generation’s successful engagement in school, work and our civic life.

How We Do It:
Providing an immediate and indelible experience of the political process through simple play, making civics interactive, immersive, and meaningful. Aligned with the National Council for the Social Studies’ C3 Framework and forwarding the directives of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), PolitiCraft allows students to allocate real-world dollars through gameplay to improve their schools, strengthen local communities and foster greater civic participation nation-wide.

The Game:
By choosing from a variety of roles and scenarios, students gain a deeper working knowledge of our political system. Various deck theme packs address different sections of government and various civic processes; for example, passing legislation, trade policy, government formation, lawmaking, etc. Within each pack, there are decision and action cards, persona cards, system-play cards, agenda cards, negotiation cards and more. The deck can be repurposed for multiple scenarios, and expansion packs encourage continual play and learning. Cards are collectable, memorable, and fun. They offer learners the opportunity to create an iconographical memory of the political spectrum and develop a set of trained skillsets that they can utilize in life and political engagement. Highly visual, interactive excitement that stays with you long after you’ve played, PolitiCraft places you at the center of civic action.

Why Politicraft?

Students lack essential skills for life, work and civic engagements. 60% of businesses don’t feel students are prepared for the workforce while 58% of our youth are unable to cite two forms of political engagement that they have taken part in . A recent poll conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found that more than one-third of Americans couldn’t name a single branch of our government. Meanwhile, the millennial generation lags behind in voter turnout, engagement in the political process, and knowledge of basic U.S. history. Currently, just 10 percent of high school seniors are proficient in U.S. history, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In civics, only a quarter of U.S. students scored proficient or better on the nation’s report card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) .

To deeply engage young people in the power of democracy and help them realize their role in shaping public policies that improve the lives of others, we must do more. Students must experience lively and meaningful civic-engagement opportunities both inside and outside of school, where they can, in the words of the Annenberg Center’s report, “work effectively together as partners, allowing opportunities for youth to take ownership of parts of the process, mobilize others, and become powerful role models.” By investing in students’ potential through hands-on, direct interaction with peers and by deeply engaging them in civic and interpersonal processes, issues such as political disconnect, lack of empathy, and ineffective communication skills can be resolved and the cycles of disengagement can be broken. PolitiCraft was designed to meet this need.

Our Youth are Agents of Change

Students who can approach problems by thinking through the entire system and then design new, relevant models are poised to discover innovative solutions. The PolitiCraft learning platform creates this opportunity at a national level, producing a future generation of driven thinkers with the experience required to successfully address challenges in personal, professional, and civic life.

Students have historically felt disconnected from the political process; they often have trouble expressing their views, especially in a constructive or empathic way. Therefore, providing them with the opportunity to explore real-life civic scenarios is critical and empowers students with an improved sense of political efficacy. The variety of interactions that the PolitiCraft Card Deck presents cultivates student perspectives and enhances socio-emotional, systems thinking, and collaboration skills. PolitiCraft helps students to both understand challenges in today’s society and play through our current system for solving them.

Partners and Collaborators:
Politicraft is a collaboration between GameDesk and I-mpact; a company that creates sustainable engagement platforms that deliver meaningful impact through strategic collaboration with nonprofits, foundations, and brands. GameDesk and I-mpact have also partnered with The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) to insure that PolitiCraft addresses the needs of teachers; its core purpose is to lead the community of social studies professionals in promoting a knowledgeable and engaged citizen. Additionally, the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) has joined to ensure PolitiCraft’s relevance across a diverse range of communities; its mission is to advance the understanding and practice of civil discourse to strengthen our democratic traditions and improve governance and public decision-making.


- An emotional learning game

Funded by: MAC Foundation

Dojo is an immersive biofeedback game designed to help players recognize changes in their physiological and emotional condition and learn to regulate different emotions in a variety of scenarios over time. The game is geared towards young people who may be inclined to impulsively respond to stressful situations and who struggle to regulate their emotions. The game has historically served urban high school students, youth within or coming out of the juvenile justice system, and students with emotional management and anger management needs. The goal of Dojo is for players to learn to control their physiological reactions. Game interactions and challenges provide players practice and support for regulating their emotional reactions. By controlling these reactions, players experience success in the game, and become better prepared for success in future real-life challenges.



- An open-world aerodynamics learning game

Funded by: National Academy of Sciences/Iridescent/Office of Naval Research

Full-Game Planned for Early Summer 2014 Release
Current Download is a Prototype Simulation

Players can control a soaring albatross and learn how various aerodynamic principles are applied to achieve flight in Aero, a forces and motion learning game for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Spread your wings and soar over the surface of the sparkling blue sea as you master the concept of flight! Players have full control over the amount of flapping and range of wing rotation while completing a series of fun, skill-based challenges. Navigate over the ocean waves and perform specific maneuvers, while applying an understanding of lift, drag, trust, wind, and the aerodynamic forces of the atmosphere. Explore a vast open world and uncover cool, hidden gems such as delicious fish meals and gear for your fine feathered friend. Accumulate flight rewards and win new songs for the albatross to sing as you learn and demonstrate each concept!


Learning Lens

- An assessment tool for the 21st century

Funded by: National Science Foundation

In collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of assessment specialists, learning scientists, K12 educators, educational technologists, and informal science educators, GameDesk is undertaking a research project to develop and implement the Learning Lens, a mobile assessment tool that enables educators to capture observations and design assessments around unique and emergent 21st century learning experiences such as project-based learning, games, apps in class, and DIY/Maker activities. Although these non-traditional learning activities have been hailed for their potential to foster STEM learning and engagement, the field lacks tools for assessing the kinds of learning that these activities afford. Learning Lens will make it possible for educators to iteratively and collaboratively create assessments grounded in activity types and in valued STEM learning outcomes, and to track students’ real-time growth in situ. Through formative and summative research, the project will contribute new knowledge regarding the kinds of learning outcomes that ensue from emergent learning experiences, and will generate processes for linking robust evidence to support valid claims about valued outcomes. The technological innovation includes a crowd-sourced strategy for responding to foundational research questions about the nature of learning in emergent activities. (more…)


- Teaching math through game development

Funded by: Motorola Solutions Foundation

After-school and in-class curricular modules that utilize game design and game development to teach critical mathematical content and to help students form identities as engineers.

The project serves both middle schools and high schools and is GameDesk’s most successful remedial math program. It also has a long history of helping at-risk students attending large urban schools struggling to reach proficient levels in mathematics and remains GameDesk’s longest standing refunded project. Students engage in a carefully structured series of game-making activities that require them to grapple with and apply mathematics standards in game design, game logic, and game programming activities.

The curriculum is designed to (1) improve students’ mathematics proficiency; (2) increase students’ motivation in math; and (3) positively impact students’ STEM identities.

This video show both the development of modules, the remedial implementation at Crenshaw High School, the impact on students, and 3rd party evaluation conducted by the University of Southern California.



- Embodied learning with geoscience

Funded by: National Academy of Sciences, National Science Foundation

Targeting California state standards for earth science and geoscience, this interactive driven pair of games utilize Leap Motion technology to teach players about Pangean and Geomoto. Players will challenge their creative problem solving skills through sophisticated game play and have their learning reinforced through this multi-sensory teaching tool. This module is designed to bring misconceptions about traditionally challenging geoscience concepts to the surface, and includes opportunities for students to correct their understanding through experience and interaction.

Ancient Inventions

- Engineering through the lens of history

Funded by: Qatar Foundation International

The Ancient Inventions program will explore the idea that kids can build anything, and through building learn about cultures and people who made unique and powerful contributions to science and technology. The maker activities will focus on contributions and transformative ideas  from many cultures. The Ancient Inventions program will show how cross-cultural understanding and social justice can be achieved through games and applied curriculum. By understanding cultures and inventions through its storied history, inventions, and great minds, students’ potentially limited familiarity with different cultures will be expanded and we believe they will learn to respect and appreciate their contributions. This is a transformative and holistic approach that makes learning invigorating while improving educational yields and helping students become more compassionate and worldly people. (more…)


- Embodied learning technology and teaching methods

Embodied learning situations through MotionPlay™ provide students with opportunities to learn from the interaction of their physical bodies within an environment of information. Students develop an experiential knowledge that involves senses, perceptions, and mind-body actions and reactions. GameDesk builds curriculum, teaching methods, and technology to bring the body back into educational theory and practice. For example, as students move across a projected floor space and see their movement tracked and plotted along a graph, they begin to “feel” velocity and whether it is constant or not. From this, students develop a relationship with the concept and the way science and math represent it numerically and symbolically. (more…)


- Exploring thermal energy inside a game

Funded by: Race to the Top Award

The Thermbot modules include both games and curriculum activities designed to give learners a deep conceptual understanding of the physics of thermal energy at the molecular level, including conduction, convection, and radiation. The modules are designed to reinforce rigorous content standards around thermal energy and heat transfer. Educators consistently cite these topics as being among the most difficult for students to grasp. By linking these concepts to rich and varied visualizations and interactions, the GameDesk design methodology brings students’ common misconceptions to the surface and supports students in developing accurate and transferable knowledge.


Motion Math In-class

- Case study for iPad fractions app

Funded by: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Are educational iPad apps valuable for learning? Until recently, no studies had put iPad learning apps to the test. Led by USC Prof. Michelle Riconscente, GameDesk ran a study on Motion Math, an iPad fractions app for elementary school-aged children. The study evaluated whether playing Motion Math led to increases in children’s fractions knowledge and attitudes. Among the main findings were that fractions knowledge increased an average of 15%, and participants gained confidence in their fractions ability and reported liking fractions more after playing the game. The study was recently accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed and scholarly Games and Culture Journal, and has earned the 2013 Top Paper Award from the Meaningful Play Journal for the first national study on the effectiveness of mobile educational games in the classroom. (more…)