Northampton, MA, September 5, 2006, –This month veteran educational software developer, Knowledge Matters, Inc., releases a simulation on ancient Egypt for middle school students (grades 5-8), the first in its new line of computer-based educational simulations for social studies. The product is based on techniques honed during nearly a decade of success with three Virtual Business products used by half a million students in 3500 middle and high schools. “VBM [Virtual Business-Management] provides the best balance of real-world accuracy and simulation playability of any simulation that we have reviewed to date,” reports Andrew Shaffer, Head of Penn’s Management Development department which surveyed existing classroom simulations.
The Virtual History – Ancient Egypt multi-level, 5-7 day module is intended as a capstone to a traditionally taught section on ancient Egypt. Designers used depictions from 4000 year-old cave paintings to build realistic experiences of daily life along the Nile. Students assume the role of village leaders who assign work tasks, monitor signs from nature, construct housing, and provide food and protection for their ever-expanding population. The students’ decisions determine whether their village succeeds or its inhabitants die of starvation. Features include:
– three levels of advancing difficulty culminating in the construction of a pyramid
– a timeframe of 5-7 hours of computer lab use
– broad spectrum of standards-based material: culture, geography, history, technology, economics and government
– interdisciplinary tie to reading, reading comprehension, grammar and writing
– built-in computer-based assessment including over 24 fill-in-the-blank quizzes and three fill-in-the-blank tests.
– lesson plans, curriculum guides, sample essay questions with web connections
– HTML-based, searchable tutorial
– flash-based instructional videos
– in-program messages that help students proceed – Knowledge Matters spent two years developing the program. Its creators worked with principals, teachers, special needs professionals, curriculum and technical coordinators in 15 individual classrooms observing 350 students interact with the software. “Only on rare occasions do I walk by and see an entire computer lab of students fully engaged in what they were doing. With Virtual History I saw it three days in a row,” reports Ken Eschrich, technology coordinator at Walsh Intermediate School in Branford, CT, one of five beta sites where Knowledge Matters tested the standards-based program. Feedback prompted 200 discreet changes. “Every decision was education (not entertainment) driven,” says Harvard MBA founder Pete Jordan who previously worked with McGraw-Hill, the text and educational materials publisher.
Eric Olsson, Vice President of Product Development, explains that Knowledge Matters set out to harness the appeal of computer games to teach curriculum. Games such as Sim City, Roller Coaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon transfix players with convincing virtual environments designed to entertain, but are not geared to measurable teaching goals. Other educational simulations use 2-D graphics and decision-tree software that present fairly transparent “either/or” choices that aren’t very engaging, says Olsson. Knowledge Matters’ simulations require the comprehensive thought processes of entertainment games AND are based on curriculum teachers use.
Virtual History – Ancient Egypt features cross-curricular connections with reading and reading comprehension, subjects that No Child Left Behind legislation now requires social studies classes to incorporate. “The students also need to exercise analytical thinking, resources management, and risk assessment in order to grow their villages,” explains Jordan. “Learning takes place at both the cognitive and emotional levels, creating a more immediate, personal experience. If a student loses her crops because she misjudged when the Nile floods, for example, the inundation is no longer an abstract, arcane fact she reads in a book.”
Founded with a SBIR grant from the Federal Department of Education to develop quality computer programs that facilitate teaching, Knowledge Matters reported 50% growth in the first half of 2006. It hopes to reach half of the US school districts by 2007 with its virtual social studies courses. The nine-year-old company has strategic partnerships with a number of international distributors including PitoTech of Taiwan.
Virtual Business has been correlated to three national standards and twenty-five state standards as well as included in textbooks by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill. Knowledge Matters’ programs are featured in official, national online competitions held by DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) and FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America).