Arizona developers present games for Education Hackathon

Above: Justin McCandless explains his game, Mathpx, to Education Hackathon judge Mario Vassaux.

Local developers demonstrated the educational potential of games May 16 at a Game CoLab Education Hackathon pitch event.

The hackathon began April 22 and asked participants to create an educational game over the course of about three weeks and then present it to a panel of judges.

Four judges evaluated the eight games on four factors: fun, creativity, marketability and assessment. The winning game would be fun, feature original design, have a marketable concept and be able to measure a student’s progress and achievement.

Game CoLab partnered with Pearson to host the event and provided $600 in prizes divided among the top three finishers, with $300, $200 and $100 going to first, second and third place, respectively.

Justin McCandless won first place for his game, Mathpx, a learning game built in HTML5 that teaches students addition and subtraction through number visualization. A traditional math problem appears at the top of the screen while pixel balls are shown on the lower half, allowing students to manipulate problems and picture the math as they go.


“The point of the game is to help kids who are just starting to learn math to make the connection between written problems and the visual understanding of how that math works,” McCandless said.

McCandless said it’s targeted at students in first grade who are learning addition and subtraction. The game tracks student progress and prepares a report for teachers and parents to assess problem areas, he added.

Mathpx also introduces students at an early age to the concept of adding and subtracting with negative numbers, McCandless said, which is something most schools don’t teach until as late as the sixth grade.

McCandless plans to expand on Mathpx’s gameplay and eventually expand it to more advanced math such as algebra.

Alex Osuna took second place with Zwarms, a biology-based real-time strategy game for mobile devices. Osuna had already been developing Zwarms before the hackathon began but added an educational game mode over the past few weeks, he said.


The gameplay, inspired by cellular biology, involves building a group of cells and using them to defeat other cells based on scientific principles. Each cell has certain traits – backed up by Osuna’s research in biology – which they use to consume other cells and multiply, he said.

The third place winner was Exponential Invasion, a math game that Perski called a “mix between chess and Sudoku.”

The game places several numbers on a grid and tasks players with using the larger numbers to overpower the smaller ones, eventually eliminating all numbers from the board, Perski said.

Exponential Invasion

The math concepts in the game are simple, Perski said, but the game requires strategic thinking from players of all ages.

“The math is simple, but the game is challenging,” he said.

Ben Reichert, Game CoLab co-founder, said the company’s partnership with Pearson was beneficial for both parties because an educational game needs input from both designers and educators to be successful.

“Continually I am impressed by the work being done here in Phoenix,” he said.

Other games featured at the event included:

Dave Balmer, left, displays Word Rave at the Education Hackathon event.
Dave Balmer, left, displays Word Rave at the Education Hackathon event.

Word Rave, an HTML5 word-building game by Dave Balmer. The game uses a grid system and the player eliminates unwanted letters, with new ones dropping in, to build words and gain points. “It’s what I like to call stealth education,” Balmer said. “If you want to get a good score with it, you have to strategize.”

Paugme, a mobile game that helps autistic students recognize emotions, by Ivan Montiel and Daniela Howe. Paugme presents players with a facial expression such as sadness and asks students to match it with an emotion and then choose an appropriate response like a hug. “We’re hoping to help children learn empathy,” Montiel said, “and how to behave in social situations.”

Wiblits, an HTML5 gaming platform for classrooms by Colin Turner. The platform allows students and teachers to build mini-games in any subject area for the purposes of studying, quizzing, competing or just for fun. “I’m interested in how the games are played,” and I want it to scale so that people all over can build their own games on the platform.”

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