National Academy of Sciences Awards GameDesk $225,000 Grant

Written by: admin

National Academy of Sciences Awards GameDesk $225,000 Grant to Develop Science Based Interactive Game for Classrooms

As part of its Science & Entertainment Exchange, the National Academy of Sciences today announced that the GameDesk Institute will be awarded $225,000 to develop its Science in Motion project, an “embodied” game that provides a learning experience that actively engages students physically and mentally in difficult science topics.

Since 2008, the Academy’s Science & Entertainment Exchange program has connected top scientists with screenwriters, directors, and producers to craft engaging storylines rooted in sound science and more accurately portray scientists in film and television.  Seeking to expand the program to similarly benefit classroom education, the Exchange held a summit on science, entertainment, and education earlier this year in Beverly Hills, Calif., where leading scientists and engineers met with creative individuals from the movie, television, and gaming industry, as well as dozens of teachers and students, to discuss new ways to use entertainment as a science learning tool.  

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation sponsored the summit and also provided funding for the new grant, intended to support projects that leverage entertainment media to improve science learning.  A committee of experts from science, education, and entertainment, chaired by Paula Apsell, senior executive producer for NOVA and NOVA scienceNOW and director of WGBH’s Science Unit, chose GameDesk’s Science in Motion project from a pool of many applicants.

“To date there have been very few efforts to create genuine partnerships among the scientific, entertainment, and education communities to develop engaging materials for classroom use,” said Ralph J. Cicerone, president, National Academy of Sciences.  “Our review panel believes that the Science in Motion project is an excellent opportunity to bring together those communities to build a very unique and powerful educational experience.” 

“We’ve been matching scientists and filmmakers to bring better science messaging to the screen,” added movie director Jerry Zucker, vice-chair of The Exchange.  “This year’s summit took that concept a step further by reaching out to educators and facilitating collaborations so that the creative force of Hollywood can be applied to the teaching of science.”

Science in Motion, which its developers bill as a “textbook of the future,” merges high-quality characterization, storytelling, and game design from LucasArts Entertainment with assessment-driven game-learning methodology from GameDesk to create educational geoscience games that involve students’ senses, perceptions, and mind-body actions and reactions.  For example, as part of a module exploring lithospheric plates, students will control the passage of time and slice through layers of the Earth to see how these shifting plates — which move only centimeters per year — can lead to events like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain building.  The simulated environment, which enables students to move seamlessly through geographical scales and temporal spaces, and added game mechanics will support students’ comprehension of cause-and-effect relationships in the earth sciences.

“This is an ambitious project in terms of both content and collaboration,” said GameDesk CEO Lucien Vattel.  “The Science & Entertainment Exchange award will help us prove that you can create a highly entertaining and academically respected experience that will be embraced as core instruction.”

The Science in Motion project was selected for its creative approach to science education, potential appeal to students as a learning tool, opportunity for broad impact, and genuine viability.  The project benefits from the support of multiple collaborators — the GameDesk Institute, LucasArts Entertainment, University of Southern California, Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, California Science Teachers of the Year, and the New York Hall of Science.  Bill Nye “The Science Guy” also is an adviser to the project.  The National Academy of Sciences’ support will facilitate lasting collaborations among these groups for incorporating the imagination, innovation, talents, and resources of the entertainment community into science education.

GameDesk CEO Lucien Vattel Talks About Games for Education & the Science in Motion Project

 Let’s start off by telling our readers more about GameDesk.

GameDesk is a research and development organization that looks to transform the way teachers teach and students learn. We try to bring 21st-century technology and thinking to teaching practice. We are part an in-development studio that bridges K-12 education, industry, and entertainment. We try to bring all of those folks together in one place to build very unique experiences and products.

We also work with schools to implement new types of teaching practice through technology. We implement technology built inside our own research institute and we integrate other peoples’ work by building the necessary wrap-around for those tools, games, or technologies to be effective in schools. Another part of what we do is developing protocols to bridge learning content, linking state and common course standards, and particular types of learning outcomes to features within technology and digital experience. 

How does gaming enhance learning? What benefits are there to gaming for educational purposes?

So, for example, in geoscience, things happen during millions of years. Geoscience is something that happens during extended amounts of time. It is also something that happens within Earth, in areas of Earth that are not easy to see. So, there is a macro view of what is happening on Earth, and there is a micro view. Those types of things are traditionally difficult to communicate with words and pictures, because words and pictures, what we call knowledge representations, do not communicate the concept at play. But games are great for looking at things over time. In games, you can speed up time. You can move between the macro view and the micro view. We can leverage games to overcome hurdles that have previously kept students from having that “Ah ha!” moment, the moment where they say, “I get it. I see how it all works.”

Are there any reasons why games benefit science education in particular?

Often with science, we are talking about dynamic systems. So, if you are looking at aerodynamics, you are looking at all the forces acting on an object, and all of those forces have a relationship. You need to be able to have a systems understanding of that science. You need to be able to see that this is a dynamic process. You need to know all the players and see how they work together. 

It is the same thing in geoscience, all of these things acting on each other. So, in that way, simulations and games allow you to experience all of the components and then pull back to see how they all work together. That is what we will be doing with this particular project [funded by the grant].

Can you tell us more about the Science in Motion project?

We are going to look at particular content standards within the sixth and ninth grade within geoscience and then we will convert those standards inside of an experience. If you look at the educational software out there, most of it is for grades K-5. There is not much out there for grades 6-12, and that is because it is harder to do. You also do not see a game that covers a large group of geoscience standards that would be a replacement to the curriculum. This project is interactive curriculum. That is what is unique about it. 

The other thing is that it is a very unique collaboration. Creators from LucasArts, Bill Nye the “Science Guy,” engineers from SpaceX, professors in geoscience, California Teachers of the Year, are all working together. These people are all bringing their expertise to address questions of design and content. In that way, it is an unprecedented collaboration in terms of educational technology and digital learning. This is a significant milestone in that type of work. It links to what The Exchange’s goal was, to bring together people who are not used to working together in a way to make something powerful.

How did you hear about the grant and why did you apply for it?

We were invited to attend the Science, Entertainment, and Education Summit last year, and we knew right away it was right up our alley. We thought it would be an opportunity to do something big. We had already done some very unique work by bringing together people that normally had not worked together. Most grants are not designed to bring people together, so in that way, the goal of the grant aligned to the collaborative culture we had established.


The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.