Game for a New Type of Education Teachers May Be to Blame for Maths Gender Gap
BYLINE: John Gaudiosi RANDOLPH SCHMID
Teachers trying to get pupils interested in molecular biology or space now have a new tool - video games.
As more children grow up playing video games, teachers are teaming up with game developers and scientists to create new interactive experiences for the classroom.
A trio of new games were developed to make subjects like world culture, molecular biology and space exploration more accessible and fun for young minds.
According to a new Kids and Gaming 2009 report from The NPD Group, of all children in the US aged two to 17, 82 percent, or 55.7 million, are currently gamers.
Of these gamers, 9.7 million are aged two to five, representing the smallest segment, while 12.4 million are aged nine to 11, making up the largest segment.
Just as kids have embraced music video games like Activision's Guitar Hero 5 and MTV Games's The Beatles: Rock Band and sports games like Electronic Arts' Madden NFL 10 and Fifa 10, teachers and researchers are hoping games like Immune Attack, Discover Babylon, and Virtual Heroes' Astronaut: Moon, Mars & Beyond will engage and educate youngsters.
The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) game developer Escape Hatch Entertainment created Immune Attack to plunge 7th to 12th graders into the microscopic world of immune system proteins and cells.
The goal of the game is to save a patient suffering from a bacterial infection.
Along the way, players gain an understanding of cellular biology and molecular science.
"This is a first-person shooter in which the objects you need to activate with your ray gun are proteins on the interior surface of the veins," explained Melanie Ann Stegman, PhD, a program manager at FAS.
"This integration of molecular science with the game took a big collaboration between scientists at Brown and our game designer."
Stegman said data from kids who played the game show that they were picking up much more than just vocabulary.
Students are learning intuitively how the cellular world works, including complex concepts like the functions of monocytes and the molecular interactions among human complement factors and bacterial surface proteins.
A sequel is already in development for next year.
"As long as games are designed to be engaging, exciting and competitive I think they can be easily tailored for educational purposes," said Tad Raudman, a science instructor at the University Preparatory School in Redding, California, whose students played Immune Attack.
"Approximately 10 percent of lifetime learning happens in the formal (K-12) educational setting. If games are played several hours a week on average, they can have a significant effect on learning in both formal and informal settings."
The FAS also worked with UCLA's Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative and the Walters Art Museum to create Discover Babylon, a game aimed at eight to 12 year-olds, that teaches about the significance of Mesopotamia in world culture using library and museum objects.
"Quality video games are very important in education because they reach some pupils who otherwise could not be taught," said Clara J Heyder, physiology and pathology teacher at Bayside High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
"Video games encompass visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning which are very important for learning."
Last month, serious games developer ARA/Virtual Heroes released a free downloadable prototype game called MoonBase Alpha, which has been designed in conjunction with Nasa engineers and astronauts to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education to students across the US. …