The promise & reality of GBL in Science

Citizen Science shown in GameUp
Though I am not a Science teacher, Science was by far my favorite subject in school. I enjoyed the occasional English class, but Science was awesome. I loved labs in Chemistry, Biology, and Geology. Somehow I missed Physics (probably when I took AP Biology), but I bet I would have loved that too.

The sad fact is, that due to shrinking budgets, time constraints, and, at times, facilities constraints, Science class in many schools is less and less about actual science and more and more about textbook reading and information recall. This is where games and simulations are coming in to fill the gaps. I get that a game is never going to replace real research and lab work, but it is certainly a better substitute than worksheet packets.

My school building has added two new Science teachers for next year. I would love to be able to share some great game based learning resources with them. That got me thinking, what would I recommend? What's out there? What is the current state of game based learning when it comes to Science?

Promising stuff

There are a lot of companies now that are producing solid simulations and games in science field. Some of these projects are in their infancy. Some have been forgotten and neglected rather than reiterated and expanded. Still, with the current STEM focus in education and the sheer awesomeness and promise of these projects, it's worth taking a look. With that said, let's take a look at some of the most promising games and simulations I've seen lately for science. 

Cyber STEM Academy

Cyber STEM Academy "is a virtual network of 3D schools. The schools serve as a multi-user platform to manage learning activities as well as student achievements" (CSAInfo).

I spoke with members of the team from Immersive3d this last weekend at EdSurge Baltimore. They definitely have a good handle on Games and Simulations in the classroom. They're currently partnering with Baltimore County Public Schools to develop some great content. This project is in the early stages, but it looks very promising.

Citizen Science (Game Up)

This game was developed by Games Learning Society, but I like the GameUp Scaffolding from BrainPop. I'll let Kurt Squire in this video from Edutopia explain Citizen Science.

Steam for Schools

This is the educational version of Steam, specially designed for use by teachers and students in a school, after-school or summer program setting. The Store, News and Community sections have been disabled in this special version of Steam. It includes Portal 2, with the puzzle maker, some unique physics related tools to use in puzzles, and Universe Sandbox. I'm not even sure if this project is supported any more, but here's the obligatory video.

Radix Endeavor

"The Radix Endeavor is a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) for STEM learning (science, technology, engineering and math) in middle and high school" (About Radix). As someone who is just beginning to experiment with WoW, this game looks to me like it could be a game-changer in the science classroom.

Honorable mention: Other projects

Here's an assortment of other projects, smaller in scope, that I've used in class but have remained stagnant since their first release, as far as I can tell.

Here are some projects and collections that I haven't completely explored but that look awesome!

What's actually happening on the ground

The disheartening reality is that a lot of this stuff isn't yet ready for prime-time. Some of it has been forgotten and neglected rather than improved and developed.

Steam for schools?

Steam for schools remains a big question mark. It hasn't been getting much love lately. There has not been much on the blog, and it is riddled with errors. Lately we've been getting pop-ups from the store..

For those of us already on-board, I actually wrote a tutorial on getting your Portal 2 install back up and running.

Radix Endeavor

I've signed up. I've set up a class. I've made a character. I cannot get the game to work. Below is a video of my experience so far in Radix.

I sent support tickets to the web site and tweeted the MIT Education Arcade (@educationarcade) asking for a whitelist in case this is a filter issue. It doesn't seem to want to load at home on my Mac, either. There, I at least get an error, though. *Sigh*.

Cyber STEM Academy 

This project is definitely still in beta, but it's being aggressively pursued by Baltimore County. When it will filter out to the rest of us, I'm not sure. I've set up a small trial account, by signing up here. I received five seats to play with and kick the tires, so to speak. I plan to post more on this when I've had some students poke around.

Competition, clutter, and closed-mindedness 

It would be sweet if the above projects could get some solid funding love from districts. Unfortunately, schools are in a budget crisis to begin with. Further, there are a lot of technology solutions out there competing for district dollars. Many of them are just flashy techy iterations of the textbook worksheet approach. I was going to mention some of these by name, but I've decided that I don't feel like that fight today. These tend to look more attractive because they cover a breadth of topics (with little depth, I might add), and they're not related to the "G" word. Good game based learning resources, on the other hand, have an uphill battle. By nature, they should be limited in scope in order to really provide the depth and richness expected from a game. They are also, well, a game. That's a bad word in a lot of places.

Parting thoughts

Again, my school building has added two new Science teachers for next year. Maybe other schools are stepping up in similar ways. Wouldn't you love to be able to share some great game based learning resources with your science folks? What would you recommend? What's out there? What is the current state of game based learning when it comes to Science? What have I missed? Post your links below, in comments.


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