Game Jam

Game Building Challenge for Grades 3-8

Game Jam 2020-2021

The 2020-2021 Game Jam focused on soil. Teams were encouraged to incorporate field investigation data and observations, online data resources, and investigations in a new game idea.

Educators/leaders registered teams of 2-5 students in two age categories (Grades 3-5 and 6-8). Games could be either analog or digital. See rubric here.

Registration was open November 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021.

Learn more - Click the links below to see the recordings of the Introduction to Game Jam and Soil Basics.

Introduction to Game Jam Online Session - Learn how to get started, tips for creating fun, educational games, and the rules for submitting your game to be entered in the statewide contest.

Soil Basics Online Session - Learn about the complex system that is soil, and its role in our lives. This is an introduction that can help students determine what aspect of soil they want to "dig" into to learn more and teach others through their game.

Teams submitted a game description and 4-minute video by February 28, 2021.

All registered educators and their teams were invited to the Game Jam Awards Presentation and Celebration on April 7, 2021.

Below are the honorees by category (Game title, student names, school):

Grades 3-5 Digital

  1. Jurassic Jam by Hunter, Nevada Middle School

Grades 3-5 Analog

  1. Super Soil by Lucas and Dominic, Decorah Home School Assistance Program

  2. Soil by Czandrya, Charli, and McKenna, Sidney Elementary

  3. Build a Plant by Hailey, Nevada Middle School

3. Worms go Down the Stream by Kinsley, Alexander, Aniyah, Jaslyn, Legyn, Cedar River Academy at Taylor

Honorable Mention to Wheel of Soil by Keegan, Addison, Natalie, and Kesler, Edgewood-Colesburg Elementary School

Grades 6-8 Digital

  1. Cowgirl Soil Park Rangers by Myler, Adysen, Audrey, Hayden, and Maddy, Sidney Elementary

  2. Soil Sim by Kane, Will, Logan, and Carter, Sidney Elementary

  3. Soil Scapes by Addy, Foster, Maleigha, and Hayley, Sidney Elementary

Grades 6-8 Analog

  1. Farming Fun by Isaiah and Eston, Decorah Home School Assistance Program

Thank you to our sponsors, committee members, and judges!


  • Iowa Conservation Education Coalition

  • Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

  • Iowa Project WILD

Game Jam Committee

  • Patrick Chase, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

  • Barb Gigar, Iowa DNR

  • Julie McMichael, NRCS

  • Jerry Neppel, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS)

  • Peg Steffen, NOAA, NASA, Contractor


  • Alex Martin, Iowa DNR

  • Amie Davidson, Iowa DNR

  • Barb Gigar, Iowa DNR

  • Jerah Sheets, Iowa DNR

  • Jerry Neppel, IDALS

  • Lori McDaniel, Iowa DNR

  • Peg Steffen, NOAA, NASA, independent consultant

About Game Jam

The goal of a "Game Jam" is for a small group to get together and prototype game designs (online, pervasive, tabletop, or other formats). Participants share a common theme and create a working prototype in a short amount of time. The brief time span is meant to help encourage creative thinking to develop small innovative games.

Games are increasingly used in educational settings to help inspire curiosity, creativity, collaboration, optimism, and problem-solving skills among a wide variety of audiences. Serious games address real-world challenges, compress time and space, encourage systems thinking, and promote active engagement, making them particularly well suited to conservation education.


Your materials needs will vary depending on the type of game that your students will create. The following are some materials that may be helpful for a game jam:

  • Index cards

  • Spinners

  • Pens, pencils, markers

  • Paper (white, construction, large format, etc.)

  • Small sticky pads

  • Large sticky pads

  • Dry erase boards and markers

  • Art supplies

  • Game pieces

  • Dice (many kinds)

  • Mathematics cubes

  • Buttons or old game markers

Game Formats

Groups can develop analog or basic digital games.

Analog game - The game should only use non-digital components. Typical examples include board games, card games, or role-playing games. Games must be in a playable form at the end of the event. The category is useful for either short or long events and is suited for locations with limited technology.

Basic digital game - Games can be remixed from an existing game in the community or use a digital game platforms (e.g., Scratch, Gamestar Mechanic, Pixel Press’ Floors and Bloxels, Roblox, GameSalad, or BreakoutEDU). Minecraft can be used if there is a clearly designed game experience within a Minecraft World and there is a clear goal for a player to achieve within the Minecraft world with clear constraints. Teachers can also use interactive fiction tools to create a text adventure based on the theme (e.g., Twine, InkleWriter, Episodes).

Tips and Tricks for Jamming

  1. Play other games first. Discuss how the games are played and what makes them fun.

  2. Get familiar with the topic - see the Learn About Soils page for information and activities.

  3. Narrow the focus - direct team members to think about one aspect of soils (soil structure, food webs, soil formation, etc.).