Academic journal article Science Scope

Mapping Digital Game Analogies to Science Instruction

Academic journal article Science Scope

Mapping Digital Game Analogies to Science Instruction

Article excerpt

Photosynthesis is commonly covered in middle-grade science as part of a larger unit about cells, plant growth, or ecology. Students typically learn the formula for photosynthesis and conduct experiments that demonstrate the influence of sunlight on plant health and growth. However, the role photosynthesis plays in plant growth is the subject of one of the most widely recognized misconceptions--the notion that plants grow by converting soil into plant matter (Marmaroti and Galanopoulou 2006). Students often understand that plants capture energy from sunlight in some way, but typically, they do not connect the use of that energy with the conversion of water and carbon dioxide into glucose. Ruby Realm is a free, online game that addresses this misconception by requiring players to use sunlight to break apart water and carbon dioxide molecules and put the component atoms together to make glucose to achieve goals.

In Ruby Realm, some kids get lost in a cave, and the only way their friends can save them is by sending a robot named Biobot Bob into the cave to find them. Bob uses glucose for energy, methanol for fuel, and tear gas for protection. The robot can make all of these materials in its photosynthesis replicator, where molecules are broken down into atoms, and those atoms are rearranged to form new molecules. The player has to navigate Biobot Bob through a maze-like cave to shafts of light. Once there, the player can make whichever material Bob needs by using the light to break apart water and carbon dioxide into oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. Then, the player can arrange the atoms into molecules of glucose, methanol, and tear gas. Teachers can draw on this fun game experience to help students understand how the energy from sunlight breaks apart water and carbon dioxide to produce stored energy in the form of glucose.

This article describes an instructional sequence that shows teachers how to use analogy mapping techniques with the Ruby Realm game (Richland and Begolli 2016). Analogies can be effective for helping students understand science concepts that are hard to visualize, because analogies enable students to connect a concept with which they are familiar (the analogy source) to concepts they are learning in the science classroom (the analogy target) (Vendetti et al. 2015). These techniques help students understand how the game is similar to or different from photosynthesis, and address the Next Generation Science Standards crosscutting concept of Energy and Matter (NGSS Lead States 2013). The analogy source is the Ruby Realm photosynthesis replicator, where the player "shoots" sunlight at images representing carbon dioxide and water, separating each into its component atoms of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. These atoms, represented by the letters C, H, and O, are rearranged into a larger structure, representing glucose. The analogy target is the concept that, with the help of sunlight, plants convert water and carbon dioxide into glucose, which they use for energy and with which they can grow and build new plant matter with oxygen as a byproduct.

Engage

Have students play Ruby Realm for 35-40 minutes before you begin your unit on photosynthesis (see Resources for link to game). If you have enough computers for all students, have them play individually, but allow them to talk to each other. If you do not have enough computers for every student to play individually, have students play in pairs or small groups, making sure they take turns controlling the mouse or trackpad at each new level. If you only have a teacher computer and projector or interactive whiteboard, split the class into two teams. For each level, have a member of one team play while his or her team members make suggestions of what to do. Record the time it takes to get through the level. The other team can then try to beat the first team's time when they play the next level. Whichever game play scenario you use, always encourage students to help their peers solve problems and cope with any technical or game-based challenges they encounter. …

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