With the right standards, video games can boost science proficiency

A screenshot from Tyto Ecology (Immersed Games)

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The situation was bleak: There were just a few plants. The mule deer were hungry. There were no pollinators. The ecosystem was on the verge of collapse. Those in charge would need to figure out what went wrong and then make quick decisions to save it. 

Good thing this was just a game designed to engage students in complex science concepts. They probably won’t feed mule deer in the future, but through a thoughtfully constructed interactive simulation, learners can build their science proficiency in engaging and meaningful ways.  

In a recent webinar hosted by edWeb.net, Lindsey Tropf, founder and CEO of Immersed Games, said such games support the Next Generation Science Standards’ approach to propelling learners’ interactions with science.

The NGSS are performance standards that delineate what students need to know and be able to do to demonstrate science proficiency. They should understand science concepts and draw on them to answer questions and solve problems as well as connect them to other concepts in the sciences. 

Several innovations drive the NGSS’s advancement:

Three-dimensional learning 

The NGSS are based in three learning dimensions central to science and engineering education. These are the practices of scientists as they investigate the world and build models, crosscutting concepts that have applications across the domains of science, and disciplinary core ideas.

Learning progressions

These build complexity across each dimension, moving through grades. There are bands for science and engineering practices, each with endpoints per grade that require the grasp and implementation of specific science skills and knowledge. 

Explaining phenomena and designing solutions

This innovation calls for students to move beyond memorization to see the value and usefulness of their learning over time. Anchoring students in a broad topic or phenomenon — such as looking at evolution via antibiotic resistance, for instance — jumpstarts this exploration. Learners, explained Tropf, use practices to make sense of a topic on their own, and as a result can answer the questions: What are you working on? Why are you working on this?

Phenomena should relate to students’ everyday local experiences or things that are meaningful and important to them and that they can observe. Next Generation Science Storylines offers an array of phenomenon-based lessons.

The game connection

Tropf explained that demonstrations, technology or simulations are ideal for framing and involving learners in the study and analysis of phenomena through interactive text and activities. Video games prove to be a useful tool on this front.

Tyto Online is Immersed Games’ collection of interactive simulations that incorporate the NGSS innovations. Each one starts with anchoring phenomena that require students to collect evidence and conduct experiments to solve a problem using evidence-based arguments. The simulations have interactive elements, data sources that respond to ecosystem changes, and tools that provide details about the various species in the virtual environment, such as how much food an animal needs and survival rates.

The Tyto Ecology game engages students in a highly interactive simulation that requires the creation of an ecosystem. They must think critically about many factors, focusing on interdependent relationships to decide what to add to a biome to sustain it. As students dive into these problems, they cannot remove elements from the simulation. They must work with them to create equilibrium.

But Tropf emphasized that not all games are created equal.

“If you find a game, and it is really, really snazzy and cool looking, and maybe has a story,” Tropf said, “but the students don’t really do anything but click ‘next’ and read the story, that’s not going to be a great NGSS opportunity.” 

She noted Science Game Center as a source of high-quality science games.

Students learn science by doing science. They explore, examine and explain how and why phenomena occur and design solutions to problems. Video games further their understanding of science content and help them to develop skills, from collaboration to data analysis, that will benefit them in their educational and career experiences.

About the presenter

Lindsey Tropf, M.Ed. is the founder and CEO of Immersed Games. She was a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida in School Psychology, with a specialization in program evaluation and a minor in research and evaluation methodology, and expertise in data-based decision making. With Immersed Games, she’s led the company from founding to development of two titles, growth of their game-based learning curriculum, through the Intel Education Accelerator, obtaining grants from the National Science Foundation and Department of Education, and implementing their product into schools and districts. 

About the host

Joyce Whitby is the president of Innovations4Education. She is a lifelong educator who spent more than ten years teaching graduate-level courses in educational technology at Long Island University, where, in 1984, she developed the Telecommunications, Education, and Multimedia, or T.E.A.M., program. Since then, Joyce has been in the business of educational technology with key roles in professional development, marketing and sales leadership. She has developed strategic sales initiatives targeting complex and urban environments for several organizations including WICAT Systems, Jostens Learning, Scientific Learning, Apple Computer, Monarch Teaching Technologies and the education group of West Corporation, called SchoolMessenger solutions. She has been an active member of SIIA for more than 15 years. 

Join the community

Teaching Next Generation Scientists is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net that provides educators and curriculum leaders with a place to collaborate on improving classroom practices for teaching PreK-12 science. 

The edWeb webinar referenced above, sponsored by Immersed Games, can be found here.

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