$3M gaming project could help spark STEM education

MIT will develop an online multiplayer game for high school math and biology.

A $3 million Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant will help the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Education Arcade build a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) to help high school students learn math and biology.

Part of the grant’s purpose will be to change the way that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics are traditionally taught in secondary schools. Studies indicate that many students fail to remain engaged and interested in STEM education in high school and college, leading to a need for highly skilled STEM employees in the nation’s workforce.

MIT Associate Professor Eric Klopfer, director of the Education Arcade and the Scheller Teacher Education Program, has researched educational gaming tools for more than 10 years. Klopfer created StarLogo TNG, a platform that helps kids create 3D simulations and games using a graphical programming language, as well as several mobile game platforms—including location-based augmented reality games.

MIT’s Education Arcade explores games that promote learning through authentic and engaging play. Aside from STEM education topics, Education Arcade projects have included history, literacy, and language learning and have been tailored to a wide range of ages. They have been designed for personal computers, handheld devices, and online delivery.

For more news about STEM education, see:

Inquiry-based approach to science a hit with students

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Meet six of the country’s best STEM schools

In a MMOG, many players’ avatars can interact and cooperate or compete directly in the same virtual world.

“This genre of games is uniquely suited to teaching the nature of science inquiry, because they provide collaborative, self-directed learning situations,” Klopfer said. “Players take on the roles of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to explore and explain a robust virtual world.”

The game will be aligned with the Common Core standards in mathematics and Next Generation Science Standards for high school students. It will use innovative, task-based assessment strategies embedded into the game to let students use and display mastery of the topics and skills necessary to play the game. This task-based assessment strategy also will give teachers targeted data that will enable them to track student progress and provide valuable, just-in-time feedback.

Klopfer’s team will work closely with Filament Games, a Wisconsin-based games production studio, as the project’s primary software developers.

Some researchers have indicated that STEM education games might be one way to help students explore STEM topics and careers in a way that educates while also engaging students, helping them find real-world value in the subjects and developing 21st-century skills.

A U.K. study that compared the brains of teenage video gamers found that those who played video games frequently have more gray matter in the area of the brain known to be associated with rewards and decision-making, which raises the question of whether gaming is related to changes in the brain.

See an example! Maryland Public Television (MPT) and MIT Education Arcade teamed up with FableVision to create Lure of the Labyrinth, an innovative gaming-meets-storytelling approach to improve math and literacy among middle-school students.

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The most recent Horizon Report, which focuses on emerging K-12 technologies, noted that game-based learning still presents challenges, but they are mainly related to what it takes to produce good, high-quality games.

According to the report, game-based learning and task-based learning are natural partners that help students relate real-world problems and issues to what they are learning.

A small number of Boston-area teachers and students will take part in a pilot phase of the MIT project this spring, using a prototype of the game. By the end of the three-year project, the game is expected to have 10,000 users nationwide.

For more news about STEM education, see:

Inquiry-based approach to science a hit with students

Climate change skepticism seeps into classrooms

Meet six of the country’s best STEM schools

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Laura Ascione

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