STEAM Challenge

The Game’s Afoot – Documentary

Submission Due Date: March 26, 2021

Designed for Middle and High School Students

Table of Contents

  • The Challenge
  • Assumptions and Logistics
  • Process
  • Meridian Support Resources
  • Presentation of Learning
  • Evaluation Rubric
  • Essential Questions
  • Student Proficiencies
  • Curricular Correlations: Common Core – Mathematics & NGSS
Range of Activities

  • Exploration of Functions, Transformations, Vectors, Modeling or Probability*
  • Game Design and Development
  • Documentary Storytelling
  • Digital Literacy Skills – Video – Pre-production, Production and Post-production
  • 21st Century Skills: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Presentational Skills
 *Please note that while this Project is designed around select mathematical ideas, this game design approach can apply to many different STEAM subjects. This does not have to be a math game that is limited to just those five functions. So, explore!

The Challenge

Math challenges abound in all of your favorite board games: What are the chances of landing on Boardwalk and Park Place? How many rolls will it take to get to the billiard room to ask about Colonel Mustard with the wrench? In The Game’s Afoot, your team combines game design elements with one of the following mathematical concepts to create a new, non-electronic math-based game:

  • Building and Interpreting Functions
  • Transformations (rotations, reflections, & translations)
  • Vectors
  • Modeling (geometric, graphical, tabular, algebraic, or statistical)
  • Probability

The resulting deliverable will be a documentary of the development, design and testing process. If a team makes it all the way to final game playing, then conclude with your peers playing the actual game.

A few things to consider:

  • The documentary must reveal proficient knowledge of the mathematical (or STEM) principles involved. It must demonstrate that students have explored the chosen concept and created a way to express their understanding of the concept through game play.
  • Teams do not have to finish the process. Game creation is a complex and deeply challenging (but fun!!) endeavor that can take years to master. The important thing here is to document the team’s efforts at mathematical creation through trial and error.
  • One way to approach this is by starting with a question: a question that your documentary will answer. An example here might be, ‘How can one make their rainy afternoons fun with [insert math topic here]?’ Or, ‘What happens when there are four different kinds of dice to choose from when moving your peg around the board: how do you choose which die and under what circumstances?’

Basic characteristics of game design include:

  • Rules: Every game has rules to dictate how to play and how to win.
  • Goals: What is the object of the game – what are the players trying to do?
  • Obstacles: What makes it difficult to achieve the goal? Are there any setbacks along the route?
  • Chance (suspense): Is there an element of uncertainty in the game? In what form?
  • Core mechanic: How does the game progress? Do you roll a dice (e.g. Monopoly)? Pick a card (e.g. Sorry)? Choose a move (e.g. chess)?

Deliverables include:

  • Documentary (this is the only Meridian deliverable)
  • Objectives and Rules (at teacher’s discretion)
  • Game Board (at teacher’s discretion)

Assumptions and Logistics

Time Frame – We recommend that this digital storytelling project takes place inside of a three to four-week time frame.

Length – All Meridian Stories submissions should be under 4 minutes in length, unless otherwise specified.

Slate – All digital storytelling projects must begin with a slate that provides:

  1. the title of the piece;
  2. the name of the school submitting;
  3. the wording ‘Permission Granted’ which gives Meridian Stories the right to a) publicly display the submission in question on, as linked from, related to or in support of Meridian Stories digital media; and b) use or reference it for educational purposes only in any and all media; and
  4. We strongly recommend that students do not put their last names on the piece either at the start or finish, during the credits.

Submissions – Keep in mind that each school can only submit three submissions per Competition (so while the entire class can participate in the Challenge, only three can be submitted to Meridian Stories for Mentor review and scoring).

Teacher Reviews – All reviews by the teacher are at the discretion of the teacher and all suggested paper deliverables are due only to the teacher. The only deliverable to Meridian Stories is the digital storytelling project.

Teacher’s Role and Technology Integrator – While it is helpful to have a Technology Integrator involved, they are not usually necessary: the students already know how to produce the digital storytelling project. And if they don’t, part of their challenge is to figure it out. They will! The teacher’s primary function in these Challenges is to guide the students as they engage with the content.  You don’t need to know editing, sound design, shooting or storyboarding: you just need to know your content area, while assisting them with time management issues.

Digital Rules/Literacy – We strongly recommend that all students follow the rules of Digital Citizenry in their proper usage and/or citation of images, music and text taken from other sources. This recommendation includes producing a citations page at the end of your entry, if applicable. See the Digital Rules area in the Meridian Digital Storytelling Resources Center section of the site for guidance.

Location – Try not to shoot in a classroom at your school. The classroom, no matter how you dress it up, looks like a classroom and can negatively impact the digital story you are trying to tell.

Collaboration – We strongly recommend that students work in teams of 3-4: part of the educational value is around building collaborative skill sets. But students may work individually.

COVID-19 does not mean that students can’t collaborate. This unusual societal circumstance allows students to, paradoxically, focus on their collaborative skills even more through a clear delegation of responsibilities; and tight communication in order to insure that everyone is clear on the scripting and blocking of individual scenes that need to tell a cohesive story, even though the scenes may be shot in isolation. Digital storytelling projects in general move the essential communication about content and learning away from the educator and toward the students themselves. That is part of their educational strength. But in COVID-19, this quality is expanded. With the teacher more ‘unavailable’ than normal, the students must rely on their collaborative skills more than ever. It’s like playing a team sport with less input from the coach. They have to rise the occasion …and they will.

The Process

Below is a suggested breakdown for the students’ work.

During Phase I, student teams will:

  • Brainstorm about the format for the documentary
    • Decide on what footage needs to be shot live and what stills or images – if any – need to be researched for use in the documentary.
    • Decide if the final documentary would benefit from any live interviews and if so, with whom?
    • Create a general timeline to design, build and test your game so that you can correlate the shooting of that plan with your documentary.
  • Once you have a general sense of what you will be shooting and how, begin the creative process by identifying your favorite board games. What do you love about those games and what don’t you like? Any ideas on ways to improve your favorite games? Start to make a list of the specific features that you may want to incorporate into your game (game board shape and graphics, role of colors, role of dice, role of playing cards, the driving objective (conquer the world!), etc.).
  • Choose an area of math, from the list above (or, as has been stated, this game can be about any area of mathematics, engineering, computer science or science), to incorporate into a game.
    • What in the basic concept of your topic is intriguing, mysterious, cool or fun?
    • What might lend itself to quick problem-solving?
    • To engage in this topic, what must one do (build, calculate, problem-solve, brainstorm, etc.)?
    • Is this an area of math or STEM that is better done in teams? Or alone?
  • Brainstorm an initial plan for the game. What are the salient game design elements that your team has chosen to define the gaming experience?
    • How will you incorporate your topic into the game? How will the game incorporate the different aspects of the Math/STEM topic?
    • What will the initial design look like? What are the visuals and the graphics that inform the look and tone of the game?
    • What materials will be needed?
  • Be sure to check out the document in Meridian Stories’ Digital Storytelling Resource Center: Introduction to Game Design

During Phase II, student teams will:

  • Create a mock-up and play the game. Trial and error is the BEST way to determine your game’s strengths and weaknesses; to determine the rules that need to be thrown out and the new ones that need to be created; to determine if you need more of this and less of that.
    • Consider approaching your game design from a whole different angle. For example, what if this game were being designed as an App? How would that change the design and interaction?
  • Keep shooting video and more trial and error. As indicated above, this may be as far as any team gets in the process. Find people who are not a part of your team to test the game and give you constructive criticism or new ideas.
  • Take a look at your footage. Are you missing anything?
    • Write out a set of rules and directions.
    • Teacher’s Option: Objectives and Rules – Teachers may require that teams hand in a paper that explains the games objectives, rules and mathematical/STEM assets

During Phase III, student teams will:

  • Make the game (and keep shooting, all the while).
    • Obtain the necessary materials.
    • Create the board and other items involved in the game.
    • Design the graphics and look of the game.
    • The name of the game is…
    • Play the game
      • Teacher’s Option: Game Board– Teachers may require that teams hand in their final Game Board
    • Assemble and organize the footage.
    • Edit the video, adding stills and graphics as desired.
    • Post-produce the video, adding music and sound effects as desired.

Meridian Support: The Digital Storytelling Resource Center

Meridian Stories provides two forms of support for the student teams:

1.    Meridian Innovators and Artists – This is a series of three to four minute-videos featuring artists and innovative professionals who offer important advice, specifically for Meridian Stories, in the areas of creativity and production.

2.    Media Resource Collection – These are short documents that offer student teams key tips in the areas of creativity, production, game design and digital citizenry.

Recommended review, as a team, for this Competition include:

Meridian Innovators and Artists Media Resource Collection
Margaret Heffernan on Non-Fiction

Michael Kolster on Photography

Sarah Childress on Documentary Films

Tom Pierce on Editing

Introduction to Game Design

Six Principles of Documentary Film Making

Creating a Short Documentary

Video Editing Basics

Presentation of Learning

Meridian Stories is a proud partner of the non-profit Share Your Learning, which is spearheading the movement of over five million students to publicly share their work as a meaningful part of their educational experience.

The workforce considers Presentational Skills to be a key asset and we encourage you to allow students to practice this skill set as often as possible. These digital storytelling projects provide a great opportunity for kids to practice their public presentational skills.  This can be achieved in a remote learning environment by inviting parents to a Zoom/Google/Skype screening of the student’s digital stories.

According to Share Your Learning, Presentations of Learning (POL) promote…

  • Student Ownership, Responsibility & Engagement. POLs can serve as a powerful rite of passage at the end of [a project]. By reflecting on their growth over time in relation to academic and character goals, grounded in evidence from their work, students are encouraged to take ownership of their learning. Just as an artist wants their portfolio to represent their best work, POLs encourage students to care deeply about the work they will share.
  • Community Pride & Involvement. When peers, teachers and community members come together to engage with student work and provide authentic feedback, they become invested in students’ growth and serve as active contributors to the school community.
  • Equity. POLs ensure that all students are seen and provide insight into what learning experiences students find most meaningful and relevant to their lives.

Meridian Stories’ own research indicates this to be a really useful exercise for one additional reason:  Students actually learn from their peers’ presentations – it is useful to hear a perspective that is not just the teacher’s.

It is with this in mind that we you encourage you to plan an event – it could be just an end-of-the-week class or an event where parents, teachers and student peers are invited – to allow the students to showcase their Meridian Stories’ digital storytelling projects. For more free resources that will support this planning, visit Share Your Learning.

Evaluation Rubric – The Game’s Afoot


Criteria 1-10
Mathematical /STEM Understanding The students demonstrate a thorough understanding of the chosen mathematical /STEM area
Game Design The game design is coherent, imaginative and compelling
Integration of Math/STEM Mathematical/STEM content is used creatively to propel the game forward


Criteria 1-10
Documentary Narrative The documentation of the creation of the math/STEM board game is presented clearly and thoroughly
Scripting & Narration The scripting and voice over are compelling and effective
Storytelling Within the documentary format, select elements of story – character, suspense, drama – come through clearly, rendering an engaging and informative experience


Criteria 1-10
Visual Shot Selection The visual shots effectively and engagingly communicate the content
Editing The documentary is edited cleanly and effectively, resulting in an engaging video experience
Music The choice of music enhances the tone and complements the content and story

21st CENTURY SKILLS COMMAND (teachers only)

Criteria 1-10
Collaborative Thinking The group demonstrated flexibility in making compromises and valued the contributions of each group member
Creativity and Innovation The group brainstormed many inventive ideas and were able to evaluate, refine and implement them effectively
Initiative and Self-Direction The group set attainable goals, worked independently and managed their time effectively, demonstrating a disciplined commitment to the project

 Essential Questions

  1. What are the most salient principles that define an understanding of (functions, transformation, vectors, modeling or probability/STEM content)?
  2. How can you apply your chosen math/STEM topic in a fun way that emphasizes the utility and playfulness of the mathematical/STEM concepts?
  3. How does one design a game?
    1. What role does mathematics play, in general, in game design?
  4. How can storytelling and game design be used to more deeply understand complex educational ideas?
  5. How has immersion in the creation of original content and the production of digital media – exercising one’s creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy skills – deepened the overall educational experience?
  6. How has working on a team – practicing one’s collaborative skills – changed the learning experience?

Student Proficiencies

  1. The student will have a clear understanding of their chosen math/STEM topic.
  2. The student will gain an appreciation for how their learning and understanding of the material can be enhanced by putting it in a different context.
  3. The student will learn more about the key elements of game design and the role of mathematics in that process.
  4. The student will learn to utilize storytelling and game design to communicate complex educational ideas in an engaging and immersive way.
  5. The student will utilize key 21st century skills, with a focus on creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy, in their process of translating mathematical/STEM content into a new narrative format.
  6. The student will have an increased awareness of the challenges and rewards of team collaboration. Collaboration – the ability to work with others – is considered one of the most important 21st century skills to develop in students as they prepare for life after secondary school.

Curricular Correlations

The Game’s Afoot – Documentary Challenge addresses a range of curricular objectives that have been articulated by the Core Curricular Standards – Mathematics. Below please find the standards that are addressed, either wholly or in part.

[The standards addressed in this challenge depend on the branch of mathematics that students choose to base their board game upon.  As regards STEM content, we can’t anticipate which NGSS standards would be addressed without knowing the area of focus. Therefore, there are no NGSS correlations referenced here.]

Common Core Standards: Mathematics

Building and interpreting functions

  • Understand the concept of a function and use function notation (HSF-IF.A)
  • Interpret functions that arise in applications in terms of the context (HSF-IF.B)
  • Analyze functions using different representations (HSF-IF.C)
  • Build a function that models a relationship between two quantities (HSF-BF.A)
  • Build new functions from existing functions (HSF-BF.B)

Transformations (rotations, reflections, & translations)

  • Experiment with transformations in the plane (HSG-CO.A)
  • Understand congruence in terms of rigid motions (HSG-CO.B)
  • Understand similarity in terms of similarity transformations (HSG-SRT.A)


  • Represent and model with vector quantities (HSN-VM.A)
  • Perform operations on vectors (HSN-VM.B)

Modeling (geometric, graphical, tabular, algebraic, or statistical)

  • Complete the modeling cycle: (HSM)
    • Identify variables in the situation and select those that represent essential features
    • Formulate a model by creating and selecting geometric, graphical, tabular, algebraic, or statistical representations that describe relationships between the variables
    • Analyze and perform operations on these relationships to draw conclusions
    • Interpret the results of the mathematics in terms of the original situation
    • Validate the conclusions by comparing them with the situation, and then either improving the model or, if it is acceptable…
    • Report on the conclusions and the reasoning behind them


  • Understand independence and conditional probability and use them to interpret data (HSS-CP.A)
  • Use the rules of probability to compute probabilities of compound events (HSS-CP.B)
  • Calculate expected values and use them to solve problems (HSS-MD.A)
  • Use probability to evaluate outcomes of decisions (HSS-MD.B)