This year one of the highlights of the AERA 2011 was the invited session on “Learning Science: Computer Games, Simulations, and Education – Learning from and Building on the 2011 National Research Council Report. The session participants were: Constance A. Steinkuehler (National Research Council Committee Member and University of Wisconsin – Madison), Yasmin B. Kafai (University of Pennsylvania) and Barry J. Fishman (University of Michigan).
First, Constance Steinkuehler presented the 2011 National Research Council Report which can also purchased from the National Academic Press website. The report, prepared by the number of leading researchers in the field, explores the potential of learning science with computer games and simulations in informal settings and everyday life. The report is very timely and critical in highlighting the importance of learning science with the games and simulations and also encouraging the developmental partnerships between government, industry, academia and schools. One critique presented by Dr. Kofai was on presenting the report on games and simulations which have different historical, practical and conceptual differences regarding their use in educational environments. Even though some critical points were raised towards the report, it still stands in a critical position in terms of bringing NRC’s attention to the subject.
Here at a more practical level, I would like to present couple examples on the games within learning science context that were shared by Constance Steinkuehler. Some of these could inspire you on their integration into the science learning contexts.
Physical Education Technology (PhET) Interactive Science Simulations created by the researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Here students can play with the fun and interactive research-based simulations of physical phenomena from the PhET project. Researchers provide a website with full of simulations and games on different science concepts and also present suggestions to teachers. The simulations are also being translated into different languages.
Whyville: Whyville is another free website that is dedicated to engaging users in learning about a range of topics from science to history. Here students can engage in learning about the science concepts by experiencing the scientific phenomenons within virtual worlds. For example, by engaging in the Why Pox Epidemic simulator, students can learn about how an infectious disease can lead to an epidemic. Very powerful tool for learning about different science concepts.
Scratch: Scratch is a programming language that is developed by the researchers at MIT for users to create interactive stories, games etc. and sharing them with other users online. It makes it easy to create games and animations and learn about mathematical and computational ideas, while thinking creatively and collaboratively. On the web site you can see the projects developed by wide range of users from around the world and presented in different languages.
The River City Project: River City Project is developed by Chris Dede and colleagues from Harvard with the funding from the NSF. It is an interactive computer simulation for middle grades science students to learn scientific inquiry and 21st century skills. River City is built on the Active Worlds multi user virtual environment.
Resilient Planet: Resilient Planet is developed by Jason Project and Filament Games. In this game students have a mission to investigate the health of our environment and discover ways to protect the planet’s ecosystems. Resilient Planet is designed with the school districts curriculum and provides lesson plans, extensions, interdisciplinary connections and other resources for teachers. Great tool for learning about scientific concepts within real life contexts.
Some other scholarly resources worth to check:
- The (U.S.) National Research Council (NRC) Report on “Learning Science in Informal Environments: Places, People, and Pursuits (2009)“
- Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments
- Sim Scientist Publications