Gaming/Virtual Environments

Developing Preservice Elementary Teachers' Ability to Facilitate Goal-Oriented Discussions in Science and Mathematics via the Use of Simulated Classroom Interactions

The project will develop, pilot, and validate eight discussion-oriented performance tasks that will be embedded in an online simulated classroom environment. The resulting research and development products could be used nationwide in teacher preparation and professional development settings to assess and develop teachers' ability to support classroom discussion in science and mathematics.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1621344
Funding Period: 
Mon, 08/01/2016 - Fri, 07/31/2020
Full Description: 

There is widespread recognition in educational literatures that academic discourse is important for supporting students' developing understanding in the disciplines of science and mathematics. College and career-ready standards also call for attention to supporting students' learning of how to think and communicate like disciplinary experts. The teaching practice of orchestrating classroom discussion is intended to support students in obtaining higher levels of academic achievement but also to support students' participation in a democratic society. However, research has found that teachers--particularly novice teachers--struggle to orchestrate discussion effectively for science and mathematics. The investigators of this project hypothesize that opportunities to 1) practice orchestrating discussions in simulated classroom environments; 2) receive constructive feedback on their practice; and 3) reflect on that feedback and their experiences with peers and teacher educators, develops preservice teachers' abilities to lead productive classroom discussion. This may allow them to be more effective at orchestrating discussion when they begin teaching real students in science and mathematics classrooms. The project team, which includes investigators from Educational Testing Service (ETS) and software engineers at Mursion, will develop, pilot, and validate eight discussion-oriented performance tasks that will be embedded in an online simulated classroom environment. The resulting research and development products could be used nationwide in teacher preparation and professional development settings to assess and develop teachers' ability to support classroom discussion in science and mathematics.

The Discovery Research K-12 (DRK-12) program seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models, and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects. This Early Stage Design and Development project will 1) iteratively develop, pilot, and refine eight science and mathematics discussion-oriented performance tasks (six formative, two summative), scoring rubrics, and rater training materials; 2) deploy the intervention in four university sites, collecting data from 240 prospective teachers in both treatment and business-as-usual courses; and 3) use data analyses and expert review to build a five-part argument for the validity of the assessment and scoring rubrics. Data sources include prospective teachers' background and demographic information, cognitive interviews, surveys, scores on content knowledge for teaching (CKT) instruments, performance and scores on the developed performance tasks, discussion scores on Danielson's Framework for Teaching observation protocol, and case study interviews with prospective teachers. The project team will also conduct interviews with teacher educators and observe classroom debrief sessions with prospective teachers and their teacher educators. The research will examine each teacher's scores on two summative performance tasks administered pre- and post-intervention and will look for evidence of growth across three formative tasks. Linear regression models will be used to understand relationships among teachers' CKT scores, pre-intervention performance task scores, group assignment, and post-intervention performance task scores. A grounded theory approach to coding qualitative data of 24 case study teachers, observations of debrief sessions, and interviews with teacher educators will generate descriptive use cases, illustrating how the tools can support prospective teachers in learning how to facilitate discussions focused on science and mathematics argumentation. Mursion will develop a webpage on its website dedicated to this project that will allow the team to post the new performance-based tasks, scoring rubrics, and examples of performance in the simulated environment for teacher educators, educational researchers, and policy makers and collect feedback from them that can be used as another information source for refining tools and their use. Research findings will also be disseminated by more traditional means, such as papers in peer-reviewed research and practitioner journals and conference presentations.

Developing Preservice Elementary Teachers' Ability to Facilitate Goal-Oriented Discussions in Science and Mathematics via the Use of Simulated Classroom Interactions

Playing with the Data: Developing Digital Supports for Middle School Science Teachers using Game-based Formative Assessment

This project will use cycles of design-based research to build new knowledge about how to facilitate teachers' interpretation and use of digital game-based formative assessment data. The research will also inform the revision and expansion of Playfully, an existing, online data-reporting dashboard that can be used with multiple digital games.

Award Number: 
1503255
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/01/2015 - Sat, 06/30/2018
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

This project will use cycles of design-based research to build new knowledge about how to facilitate teachers' interpretation and use of digital game-based formative assessment data. The research will also inform the revision and expansion of Playfully, an existing, online data-reporting dashboard that can be used with multiple digital games. The project is a collaboration between researchers at Education Development Center Inc.'s Center for Children and Technology (EDC|CCT) and the assessment and game development teams at GlassLab. The research and development teams will engage in a three-year partnership with 60 middle-grade science teachers working in diverse school settings in different parts of the country. The aim of the project is to refine an online formative assessment platform that utilizes data from a video game designed to teach argumentation at the middle school level. It provides rigorous research on the design features of data tools and associated materials available to teachers to inform their ongoing instruction (i.e., formative assessment tools) when using game-based platforms.

Dissemination of the results of this project will include practical, evidence-based suggestions for supporting middle school science teachers' use of digital games for assessment, and for the design and implementation of data dashboards. Key audiences include educational game designers, game-based assessment developers, formative assessment experts, and leaders in middle grade science teaching and learning.

Playing with the Data: Developing Digital Supports for Middle School Science Teachers using Game-based Formative Assessment

Zoombinis: The Full Development Implementation Research Study of a Computational Thinking Game for Upper Elementary and Middle School Learners

This project leverages an existing game by embedding tools for studying patterns of students' decision-making and problem solving in the environment. This allows researchers to understand how students learn about computational thinking within a tool that bridges informal and formal learning settings to engage a wide variety of students. The project will also develop tools and resources for classroom teachers.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1502882
Funding Period: 
Wed, 07/15/2015 - Sat, 06/30/2018
Full Description: 

The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis implementation research study examines the development of computational thinking for upper elementary and middle grades students. Computational thinking is the set of ideas and practices considered vital for computer science skills and has been attracting increased attention over the past several years in K-12 education. This project leverages an existing game by embedding tools for studying patterns of students' decision-making and problem solving in the environment. This allows researchers to understand how students learn about computational thinking within a tool that bridges informal and formal learning settings to engage a wide variety of students. The project will also develop tools and resources for classroom teachers. The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

The research examines three questions. First, what strategies do players develop during Zoombinis gameplay that may provide evidence of implicit computational thinking? Second, how can teachers leverage implicit knowledge of computational thinking developed in Zoombinis to improve formal (explicit) learning? Third, how can a large-scale commercial game be used for broad and equitable improvement of computational thinking? The research uses and develops educational data mining techniques to assess students' learning in conjunction with pre-post computational thinking assessments (external to the game), teacher interviews, classroom observations, and case studies of classroom use. The goal is to understand both students' learning of computational thinking and how to bridge the formal and informal learning via classroom implementation of the Zoombinis game.

Zoombinis: The Full Development Implementation Research Study of a Computational Thinking Game for Upper Elementary and Middle School Learners

SimScientists Games: Development of Simulation-Based Game Designs to Enhance Formative Assessment and Deep Science Learning in Middle School

This project will focus on understanding how educational games, designed according to research-based learning and assessment design principles, can better assess and promote students' science knowledge, application of science process skills, and motivation and engagement in learning.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503481
Funding Period: 
Sat, 08/01/2015 - Wed, 07/31/2019
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 (DRK-12) program seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers through research and development of innovative resources, models, and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects. This project is a four-year design and development study submitted to the assessment strand of the program. It will focus on understanding how educational games, designed according to research-based learning and assessment design principles, can better assess and promote students' science knowledge, application of science process skills, and motivation and engagement in learning. The project will develop a new genre of games to serve as formative assessment resources designed to collect evidence of science learning during gameplay, provide feedback and coaching in the form of hints, and reinforce middle grade (6th-8th) students' life science concepts and investigation practices about ecosystems described in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (Achieve, 2013). The games will build on the designs of the simulation-based, curriculum-embedded assessments developed in previous NSF-funded efforts, which include student progress reports and reflection activities that allow teachers to provide feedback to students and adjust instruction. The design of the games will draw from multiple lines of research, such as cognition, particularly model-based learning; principled assessment design; and motivation. Intended to provide engaging activities for understanding and investigating the system components, roles, interactions, and population dynamics of ecosystems, the project will produce two sets of comprehensive games: (1) Organisms and Interactions, and (2) Emergent Population Levels: Managing an Ecosystem. Each game will consist of progressively advanced mini-games. Twenty-four California Bay Area middle school teachers will participate in the study. Teacher professional development (PD) will include face-to-face sessions and an online platform that permits a wide range of interactions among participants and the facilitators. The PD will emphasize the alignment of the ecosystem simulation-based curriculum modules with their state standards, instructional materials, and the new games.

The project will address six research questions: (1) How well do the games align with the ecosystem crosscutting concepts, core ideas, and inquiry practices in the NGSS?; (2) How well do game components meet quality standards?; (3) How well do the games integrate with the existing simulation-based curriculum modules and the teachers' existing instructional sequence?; (4) What effect does the use of the games have on students' understanding of the science concepts, scientific practices, and collaboration skills?; (5) How does success in gameplay relate to improved performance on the external outcome measures comprised of the simulation-based benchmark and the pre/posttest?; and (6) How does the use of the games affect students' engagement in science learning? In a Year 1 usability study, the project will test, analyze, and revise alpha versions of the games. In Year 2, a classroom feasibility study of beta versions will inform further revisions. In Year 3, six teachers will pilot-test the games. A second pilot test in Year 4 will examine the effectiveness of the games by comparing student performance in classes using the existing simulation-based curriculum-embedded assessments and reflection activities with classes using the curriculum-embedded assessments plus the new games. Data collection and analysis strategies include: (a) alignment reviews; (b) focus groups and usability testing; (c) cognitive labs for construct validity and usability; (d) game reports (badges); (e) pre/posttest of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) items; (f) benchmark assessment data; (g) student interest in the games and science; (h) teacher surveys; (i) case studies; (j) game quality analysis; (k) differential item functioning; (l) analysis of covariance; and (m) analysis of variance on posttest scores (outcome variable) to compare the means across student groups (by intervention mode) and their prior science achievement levels.

SimScientists Games: Development of Simulation-Based Game Designs to Enhance Formative Assessment and Deep Science Learning in Middle School

Math Snacks Early Algebra Using Games and Inquiry to Help Students Transition from Number to Variable

This project will develop games to build conceptual understanding of key early algebra topics. The materials will be freely accessible on the web in both English and Spanish. The project will develop 4-5 games. Each game will include supporting materials for use by students in inquiry-based classroom lessons, and web-based professional development tools for teachers.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503507
Funding Period: 
Tue, 09/01/2015 - Sat, 08/31/2019
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

Many U.S. students enter college without the necessary background in algebra to be successful in advanced mathematics and science courses, and are thereby blocked from many rewarding careers. Oftentimes, the problem goes back to early algebra in grades 4-6, where students are introduced to abstract formulations before they understand the underlying ideas and the reasons for the questions being asked. As a result of inadequate preparation many students turn away from mathematics when faced with abstract algebra. Without mathematics, students are not able to enter the STEM field which results in a weakened workforce in these fields in the United States. In this 4-year Full Research and Development project, Math Snacks Early Algebra: Using Games and Inquiry to Help Students Transition from Number to Variable, the interdisciplinary research group from New Mexico State University will build on their success in using games to increase students' understanding of proportional reasoning and fractions. They will develop games to build conceptual understanding of key early algebra topics. The materials will be freely accessible on the web in both English and Spanish. The project will develop 4-5 games. Each game will include supporting materials for use by students in inquiry-based classroom lessons, and web-based professional development tools for teachers.

Most students do not understand the variety of distinct ways that variables are used in mathematics: unknowns to be solved for, related quantities, general properties of numbers, and other uses. Algebra courses often emphasize the rules of manipulation, with less time spent on the underlying ideas. Students see variables as confusing new material, rather than as shortcuts for making sense of numbers, or as powerful tools for analyzing interesting problems. This hinders students' later interest and progress in STEM courses and careers.The intellectual merit for this R & D project includes the development of a new way to learn key underlying concepts in algebra, further investigation of the affordances of games and technology in learning abstract mathematical concepts, and a better understanding of learning assessment in early algebra. The broader impact for this R & D project includes making these tools widely available to students, and the potential shift of teachers towards effective mathematical pedagogy that is engaging and inquiry-based. Development will begin with existing research on early algebraic thinking and learning, and proceed through an iterative process involving design, testing in the NMSU Learning Games Lab, testing in classrooms, and back to design. The project will then study the effect of the developed materials on student understanding and on classroom learning environments. Qualitative and quantitative measures will be used. Researchers will use a custom measure aligned with NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) and other standard tests, interviews and observations with teachers and students, and embedded data collection and self-reports on frequency and extent of game usage. After two earlier pilot studies, in the final year a delayed intervention study will be conducted with 50 teachers and their students. The Math Snacks team has existing partnerships for distribution of games and materials with PBS, GlassLabs, BrainPOP, and others. Academic findings of the project will be shared through conferences and research publications.

Math Snacks Early Algebra Using Games and Inquiry to Help Students Transition from Number to Variable

SmartCAD: Guiding Engineering Design with Science Simulations (Collaborative Research: Chiu)

This project investigates how real time formative feedback can be automatically composed from the results of computational analysis of student design artifacts and processes with the envisioned SmartCAD software. The project conducts design-based research on SmartCAD, which supports secondary science and engineering with three embedded computational engines capable of simulating the mechanical, thermal, and solar performance of the built environment.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503170
Funding Period: 
Mon, 06/15/2015 - Fri, 05/31/2019
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects. 

In this project, SmartCAD: Guiding Engineering Design with Science Simulations, the Concord Consortium (lead), Purdue University, and the University of Virginia investigate how real time formative feedback can be automatically composed from the results of computational analysis of student design artifacts and processes with the envisioned SmartCAD software. Through automatic feedback based on visual analytic science simulations, SmartCAD is able to guide every student at a fine-grained level, allowing teachers to focus on high-level instruction. Considering the ubiquity of CAD software in the workplace and their diffusion into precollege classrooms, this research provides timely results that could motivate the development of an entire genre of CAD-based learning environments and materials to accelerate and scale up K-12 engineering education. The project conducts design-based research on SmartCAD, which supports secondary science and engineering with three embedded computational engines capable of simulating the mechanical, thermal, and solar performance of the built environment. These engines allow SmartCAD to analyze student design artifacts on a scientific basis and provide automatic formative feedback in forms such as numbers, graphs, and visualizations to guide student design processes on an ongoing basis. 

The research hypothesis is that appropriate applications of SmartCAD in the classroom results in three learning outcomes: 1) Science knowledge gains as indicated by a deeper understanding of the involved science concepts and their integration at the completion of a design project; 2) Design competency gains as indicated by the increase of iterations, informed design decisions, and systems thinking over time; and 3) Design performance improvements as indicated by a greater chance to succeed in designing a product that meets all the specifications within a given period of time. While measuring these learning outcomes, this project also probes two research questions: 1) What types of feedback from simulations to students are effective in helping them attain the outcomes? and 2) Under what conditions do these types of feedback help students attain the outcomes? To test the research hypothesis and answer the research questions, this project develops three curriculum modules based on the Learning by Design (LBD) Framework to support three selected design challenges: Solar Farms, Green Homes, and Quake-Proof Bridges. This integration of SmartCAD and LBD situate the research in the LBD context and shed light on how SmartCAD can be used to enhance established pedagogical models such as LBD. Research instruments include knowledge integration assessments, data mining, embedded assessments, classroom observations, participant interviews, and student questionnaires. This research is carried out in Indiana, Massachusetts, and Virginia simultaneously, involving more than 2,000 secondary students at a number of socioeconomically diverse schools. Professional development workshops are provided to familiarize teachers with SmartCAD materials and implementation strategies prior to the field tests. An external Critical Review Committee consisting of five engineering education researchers and practitioners oversee and evaluate this project formatively and summative. Project materials and results are disseminated through publications, presentations, partnerships, and the Internet.

SmartCAD: Guiding Engineering Design with Science Simulations (Collaborative Research: Chiu)

SmartCAD: Guiding Engineering Design with Science Simulations (Collaborative Research: Xie)

This project investigates how real time formative feedback can be automatically composed from the results of computational analysis of student design artifacts and processes with the envisioned SmartCAD software. The project conducts design-based research on SmartCAD, which supports secondary science and engineering with three embedded computational engines capable of simulating the mechanical, thermal, and solar performance of the built environment.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503196
Funding Period: 
Mon, 06/15/2015 - Fri, 05/31/2019
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects. 

In this project, SmartCAD: Guiding Engineering Design with Science Simulations, the Concord Consortium (lead), Purdue University, and the University of Virginia investigate how real time formative feedback can be automatically composed from the results of computational analysis of student design artifacts and processes with the envisioned SmartCAD software. Through automatic feedback based on visual analytic science simulations, SmartCAD is able to guide every student at a fine-grained level, allowing teachers to focus on high-level instruction. Considering the ubiquity of CAD software in the workplace and their diffusion into precollege classrooms, this research provides timely results that could motivate the development of an entire genre of CAD-based learning environments and materials to accelerate and scale up K-12 engineering education. The project conducts design-based research on SmartCAD, which supports secondary science and engineering with three embedded computational engines capable of simulating the mechanical, thermal, and solar performance of the built environment. These engines allow SmartCAD to analyze student design artifacts on a scientific basis and provide automatic formative feedback in forms such as numbers, graphs, and visualizations to guide student design processes on an ongoing basis. 

The research hypothesis is that appropriate applications of SmartCAD in the classroom results in three learning outcomes: 1) Science knowledge gains as indicated by a deeper understanding of the involved science concepts and their integration at the completion of a design project; 2) Design competency gains as indicated by the increase of iterations, informed design decisions, and systems thinking over time; and 3) Design performance improvements as indicated by a greater chance to succeed in designing a product that meets all the specifications within a given period of time. While measuring these learning outcomes, this project also probes two research questions: 1) What types of feedback from simulations to students are effective in helping them attain the outcomes? and 2) Under what conditions do these types of feedback help students attain the outcomes? To test the research hypothesis and answer the research questions, this project develops three curriculum modules based on the Learning by Design (LBD) Framework to support three selected design challenges: Solar Farms, Green Homes, and Quake-Proof Bridges. This integration of SmartCAD and LBD situate the research in the LBD context and shed light on how SmartCAD can be used to enhance established pedagogical models such as LBD. Research instruments include knowledge integration assessments, data mining, embedded assessments, classroom observations, participant interviews, and student questionnaires. This research is carried out in Indiana, Massachusetts, and Virginia simultaneously, involving more than 2,000 secondary students at a number of socioeconomically diverse schools. Professional development workshops are provided to familiarize teachers with SmartCAD materials and implementation strategies prior to the field tests. An external Critical Review Committee consisting of five engineering education researchers and practitioners oversee and evaluate this project formatively and summative. Project materials and results are disseminated through publications, presentations, partnerships, and the Internet.

SmartCAD: Guiding Engineering Design with Science Simulations (Collaborative Research: Xie)

SmartCAD: Guiding Engineering Design with Science Simulations (Collaborative Research: Magana-de-Leon)

This project investigates how real time formative feedback can be automatically composed from the results of computational analysis of student design artifacts and processes with the envisioned SmartCAD software. The project conducts design-based research on SmartCAD, which supports secondary science and engineering with three embedded computational engines capable of simulating the mechanical, thermal, and solar performance of the built environment.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503436
Funding Period: 
Mon, 06/15/2015 - Fri, 05/31/2019
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects. 

In this project, SmartCAD: Guiding Engineering Design with Science Simulations, the Concord Consortium (lead), Purdue University, and the University of Virginia investigate how real time formative feedback can be automatically composed from the results of computational analysis of student design artifacts and processes with the envisioned SmartCAD software. Through automatic feedback based on visual analytic science simulations, SmartCAD is able to guide every student at a fine-grained level, allowing teachers to focus on high-level instruction. Considering the ubiquity of CAD software in the workplace and their diffusion into precollege classrooms, this research provides timely results that could motivate the development of an entire genre of CAD-based learning environments and materials to accelerate and scale up K-12 engineering education. The project conducts design-based research on SmartCAD, which supports secondary science and engineering with three embedded computational engines capable of simulating the mechanical, thermal, and solar performance of the built environment. These engines allow SmartCAD to analyze student design artifacts on a scientific basis and provide automatic formative feedback in forms such as numbers, graphs, and visualizations to guide student design processes on an ongoing basis. 

The research hypothesis is that appropriate applications of SmartCAD in the classroom results in three learning outcomes: 1) Science knowledge gains as indicated by a deeper understanding of the involved science concepts and their integration at the completion of a design project; 2) Design competency gains as indicated by the increase of iterations, informed design decisions, and systems thinking over time; and 3) Design performance improvements as indicated by a greater chance to succeed in designing a product that meets all the specifications within a given period of time. While measuring these learning outcomes, this project also probes two research questions: 1) What types of feedback from simulations to students are effective in helping them attain the outcomes? and 2) Under what conditions do these types of feedback help students attain the outcomes? To test the research hypothesis and answer the research questions, this project develops three curriculum modules based on the Learning by Design (LBD) Framework to support three selected design challenges: Solar Farms, Green Homes, and Quake-Proof Bridges. This integration of SmartCAD and LBD situate the research in the LBD context and shed light on how SmartCAD can be used to enhance established pedagogical models such as LBD. Research instruments include knowledge integration assessments, data mining, embedded assessments, classroom observations, participant interviews, and student questionnaires. This research is carried out in Indiana, Massachusetts, and Virginia simultaneously, involving more than 2,000 secondary students at a number of socioeconomically diverse schools. Professional development workshops are provided to familiarize teachers with SmartCAD materials and implementation strategies prior to the field tests. An external Critical Review Committee consisting of five engineering education researchers and practitioners oversee and evaluate this project formatively and summative. Project materials and results are disseminated through publications, presentations, partnerships, and the Internet.

SmartCAD: Guiding Engineering Design with Science Simulations (Collaborative Research: Magana-de-Leon)

Learning about Ecosystems Science and Complex Causality through Experimentation in a Virtual World

This project will develop a modified virtual world and accompanying curriculum for middle school students to help them learn to more deeply understand ecosystems patterns and the strengths and limitations of experimentation in ecosystems science. The project will build upon a computer world called EcoMUVE, a Multi-User Virtual Environment or MUVE, and will develop ways for students to conduct experiments within the virtual world and to see the results of those experiments.

Project Email: 
ecomuve@gse.harvard.edu
Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1416781
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2014 - Thu, 08/31/2017
Full Description: 

Comprehending how ecosystems function is important knowledge for citizens in making decisions and for students who aspire to become scientists. This understanding requires deep thinking about complex causality, unintended side-effects, and the strengths and limitations of experimental science. These are difficult concepts to learn due to the many interacting components and non-linear interrelationships involved. Ecosystems dynamics is particularly difficult to teach in classrooms because ecosystems involve complexities such as phenomena distributed widely across space that change over long time frames. Learning when and how experimental science can provide useful information in understanding ecosystems dynamics requires moving beyond the limited affordances of classrooms. The project will: 1) advance understanding of experimentation in ecosystems as it can be applied to education; 2) show how student learning is affected by having opportunities to experiment in the virtual world that simulate what scientists do in the real world and with models; and 3) produce results comparing this form of teaching to earlier instructional approaches. This project will result in a learning environment that will support learning about the complexities of the earth's ecosystem.

The project will build upon a computer world called EcoMUVE, a Multi-User Virtual Environment or MUVE, developed as part of an earlier NSF-funded project. A MUVE is a simulated world in which students can virtually walk around, make observations, talk to others, and collect data. EcoMUVE simulates a pond and a forest ecosystem. It offers an immersive context that makes it possible to teach about ecosystems in the classroom, allowing exploration of the complexities of large scale problems, extended time frames and and multiple causality. To more fully understand how ecosystems work, students need the opportunity to experiment and to observe what happens. This project will advance this earlier work by developing ways for students to conduct experiments within the virtual world and to see the results of those experiments. The project will work with ecosystem scientists to study the types of experiments that they conduct, informing knowledge in education about how ecosystem scientists think, and will build opportunities for students that mirror what scientists do. The project will develop a modified virtual world and accompanying curriculum for middle school students to help them learn to more deeply understand ecosystems patterns and the strengths and limitations of experimentation in ecosystems science. The resulting program will be tested against existing practice, the EcoMUVE program alone, and other programs that teach aspects of ecosystems dynamics to help teachers know how to best use these curricula in the classroom.

Learning about Ecosystems Science and Complex Causality through Experimentation in a Virtual World

Taking Games to School: Exploratory Study to Support Game-based Teaching and Learning In High-School Science Classes

This project is building a set of software tools, including a tool for annotating screen recordings of activities in games, a teacher data dashboard for information about students' in-game learning, and tools to help teachers customize activities in games to better align with curricular standards. The project will find out whether these new tools can enhance teaching and/or learning. 

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1415284
Funding Period: 
Tue, 07/15/2014 - Thu, 06/30/2016
Full Description: 

Research shows that educational games can enhance students' science learning, but current work leaves teachers dependent on researchers and games companies to provide good games and game-based curricula. This project aims to study how teachers can be involved in making science learning games more effective, and how educational science games can better support good teaching. This project is building a set of software tools, including a tool for annotating screen recordings of activities in games, a teacher data dashboard for information about students' in-game learning, and tools to help teachers customize activities in games to better align with curricular standards. It will conduct studies with successful research-based educational games for learning science, and popularly available educational games from websites such as BrainPop, in a network of teachers who have experience using 'canned' games in their classrooms. The project will find out whether these new tools can enhance teaching and/or learning. It will also help develop a list of the types of customization options teachers need in order to be able to effectively use educational games in their classrooms. If successful, this research could point the way towards new tools that let teachers create activities that turn any game into an educational game, and to better use existing educational games in their classrooms. This could greatly speed up our ability to deliver high-quality learning experiences through educational games.

This project involves a participatory design process in which a small number of experienced teachers will feed into a principled, iterative refinement of prototypes of the tools (annotation, data dashboard, and level-builder) to be prototyped within the Brainplay suite. In the beta testing phase, a hierarchical linear model analysis will be conducted on both student and teacher outcomes in 25 classrooms. In addition to the quantitative analysis, qualitative studies involving classroom observations, focus groups, and teacher journaling will be conducted to examine impact on teaching practices and refine the functional specifications. Project dissemination will take place through the community around the previously-developed Leveling Up games (played around 10,000 times per week), and through existing professional networks such as Edmodo. The project will also work within the games community to help inform possible approaches to logging learning data and allowing teacher customization across all games.

Taking Games to School: Exploratory Study to Support Game-based Teaching and Learning In High-School Science Classes
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