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Using games to teach STEM subjects


Abstract:

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, the integration of game-based learning in STEM subjects emerges as a cutting-edge approach to teaching and student engagement. This article, ‘Using Games to Teach STEM Subjects,’ delves into the dynamic intersection of learning psychology theories and the practical application of games in educational settings. We begin with an introduction to the concept, emphasizing the intrinsic motivation and inquiry learning fostered by video games, and how these elements align with educational theories such as behaviorism and constructivism. The article then guides educators through the process of lesson plan development using the PRIMER method, a strategic approach to selecting and implementing games in the classroom. Subsequent sections offer practical tips for instructors to maximize the educational potential of games, and an illustrative example comparing engineering principles through real bridge building and a bridge-building game. The article concludes with a reflection on the transformative potential of game-based learning in STEM education, highlighting its role in fostering a more engaging, interactive, and effective learning environment. ‘Using Games to Teach STEM Subjects’ serves as a comprehensive guide for educators seeking to harness the power of games in enhancing STEM education, preparing students for a future where technology and learning are seamlessly intertwined.


Using Games to Teach STEM Subjects

As we envision a future steering towards a Type 3 civilization, a paradigm shift in education becomes imperative. The traditional “sage on stage” model is gradually evolving into a more personalized, AI-driven learning experience. We foresee an educational landscape akin to the science fiction realms of holographic interactivity and procedurally generated content, meticulously tailored by AI to optimize learning. This AI, operating at incredibly fine temporal resolutions, will not only adapt to the learner’s behavior but also to their neurochemistry, ensuring that knowledge is effectively encoded in the brain’s memory systems.

In this context, the intersection of play and learning becomes crucial. Plass, Homer, and Linzer, in their work on the foundations of game-based learning, articulate that play and learning are orthogonal, existing in a spectrum ranging from low play/low learning to high play/high learning. Our target is the latter, where enthusiastic exploration triggers the optimal dopamine cycle for learning. This framework underpins the argument for integrating video games into education.

Observing children’s engagement with video games reveals a stark contrast. Educational games often fail to sustain interest, while games like Minecraft or Roblox captivate them for hours. This discrepancy highlights the necessity for games that not only educate but also engage. Rosenheck and colleagues at the Education Arcade Lab propose the concept of “resonant games”. These games are characterized by their open-endedness, exploratory nature, and ability to connect learners to broader systems and concepts, fostering deeper learning (Rosenheck, 2021).

Our mission is to harness the potential of these resonant games, transforming the educational landscape and making learning an immersive, dynamic, and personalized journey.


Lesson Plan Development: Game Identification Using PRIMER

At GameUcation, we are dedicated to effectively integrating games into classrooms to facilitate a high play, high learning environment. This approach aims to create optimal brain chemistry for learning, a concept akin to future technologies capable of real-time learning assessment. Our focus is on empowering instructors with the necessary tools for maximum educational impact. The PRIMER method is our chosen strategy for selecting the most appropriate games for classroom material.

PRIMER Framework:

Problem:

This involves selecting a specific problem for students to solve within a game context. For instance, designing a bridge in a village could be a problem, where students employ computational thinking strategies like abstraction, automation, and analysis. Such an approach aligns with behaviorist principles of immediate feedback and problem-solving within a game environment (ERIC, 2022).

Reason:

Explore the reasons behind scientific phenomena, like why cells need iron, or mathematical concepts, such as the properties of geometric shapes. This can tie into inquiry learning, where students actively question and investigate within a game-based learning environment (Springer, 2019).

Investigation:

Encourage students to investigate causes and effects within ecosystems through simulation games like ‘Sims’ or ‘Zoo Simulator’. This aligns with the constructivist approach, where students construct knowledge through experimentation and manipulation in game environments (UniversityXP, 2021).

Methods:

This could involve exploring different systems or methodologies in a subject area, for instance, the order of operations in mathematics. Games that focus on such methods can provide a scaffolded learning experience, gradually increasing in complexity (SpringerOpen, 2022).

Experience/Explore:

Facilitate experiences like life underwater or being a photon escaping the sun’s corona. Such immersive experiences can greatly enhance engagement and contextual understanding (ERIC, 2022).

Relationships:

This aspect focuses on connecting different areas of knowledge. For example, understanding the relationship between Darwin’s Finches and their environment can illustrate evolution, a concept deeply rooted in constructivist learning (Play with Learning, 2012).

This PRIMER tool assists instructors in identifying games that can serve as a framework for lessons, integrating video games into classroom learning activities effectively.


Tips for Instructors

Interactions and Questions:

As a facilitator in a game-based learning environment, the instructor’s role shifts towards that of a coach. The language used should be centered around constructive criticism, promoting reflective thinking. Encourage students to articulate the reasoning behind their choices within the game. For example, ask them to explain the decisions they made, how these impacted their game progress, and what alternative strategies might have been more effective. This approach resonates with Rosenheck’s concept of fostering deep, intrinsic motivation through exploration and reflection (Rosenheck, 2021).

Scaffolding:

Effective scaffolding involves drawing attention to key concepts and game mechanics before play begins. This preparatory phase helps students focus on relevant aspects during gameplay, enhancing their understanding and application of the material. This method aligns with behaviorist strategies of offering immediate feedback and repeating tasks for mastery, ensuring that students engage with and grasp complex STEM concepts effectively (SpringerOpen, 2022). Furthermore, as students progress through the game, the instructor can gradually introduce more complex concepts, mirroring the natural progression in learning and aligning with constructivist principles (UniversityXP, 2021).

These tips aim to enhance the effectiveness of game-based learning by focusing on student engagement, critical thinking, and a structured approach to exploring complex concepts. The goal is to foster an environment where students are not only learning through play but also developing a deeper understanding of the underlying STEM principles.


Example: Engineering – Real Bridges vs. Building Bridge Game

Scenario:
An engineering class is tasked with understanding the principles of bridge design. The goal is to compare and contrast the theoretical aspects of bridge engineering with practical application.

  1. Lesson Plan Development (PRIMER Method)

Problem: Design a functional bridge that can withstand specific environmental conditions.
Reason: Understand the fundamental principles of engineering and physics that govern bridge construction.
Investigation: Research different types of bridges and the reasons for their structural differences.
Methods: Apply mathematical and engineering concepts to the design process.
Experience/Explore: Explore the impact of material choice, budget constraints, and environmental factors on bridge design.
Relationships: Connect theoretical knowledge with practical application in real-world scenarios.

  1. Game Identification

For this lesson, the chosen game is “Bridge Builder Simulator”, a game that allows students to design and test bridges in a virtual environment.

  1. Tips for Instructors

Interactions and Questions: After each design attempt in the game, instructors ask students to explain their design choices, the challenges they faced, and the solutions they implemented.
Scaffolding: Before starting the game, the instructor explains key concepts in bridge engineering, such as tension, compression, and material properties, which students should consider during gameplay.

  1. Implementing the Lesson

Students are first introduced to real-world bridge engineering concepts, including case studies of famous bridges and their design challenges. They then play “Bridge Builder Simulator”, applying these concepts in the game.

  1. Reflection and Comparison

Post-gameplay, students engage in a reflective discussion comparing their virtual designs with real-world bridges. They analyze the differences in challenges faced in the virtual and real world, such as budget constraints, material limitations, and environmental factors. This discussion helps students understand the complexities of bridge engineering and the importance of theoretical knowledge in practical applications.

Conclusion:

This example illustrates the effective integration of game-based learning in STEM education. The “Bridge Builder Simulator” game serves as a tool to reinforce and apply theoretical concepts in a practical, engaging manner. It also demonstrates the application of the PRIMER method in lesson planning, effective scaffolding techniques, and the importance of reflective discussions in deepening understanding.


Conclusion: Revolutionizing STEM Education Through Game-Based Learning

As we venture into the future of education, the integration of game-based learning in STEM subjects stands as a beacon of innovation and engagement. Throughout this article, we have explored how games can be more than just tools for entertainment; they are potent vehicles for learning, offering immersive, interactive experiences that resonate with students’ intrinsic motivations and curiosity.

From the strategic implementation of the PRIMER method in lesson plan development to the transformative role of instructors as facilitators and coaches, we have outlined a roadmap for educators to harness the educational power of games. By adopting a thoughtful approach to game selection and lesson design, educators can create learning environments where students are not passive recipients of information but active participants in their learning journey.

The example of engineering through real bridge building versus a bridge-building game exemplifies how theoretical concepts can be grounded in practical application, bridging the gap between abstract knowledge and real-world problem-solving. This hands-on approach not only solidifies students’ understanding of complex STEM concepts but also fosters critical thinking, creativity, and a deeper appreciation for the subject matter.

In conclusion, game-based learning in STEM education is not a fleeting trend but a paradigm shift towards a more engaging, effective, and student-centered approach to teaching and learning. By embracing this shift, educators can ignite a passion for STEM in their students, equipping them with the skills and knowledge to thrive in an ever-evolving technological landscape. The future of education is here, and it is interactive, immersive, and incredibly exciting.


References

ERIC. (2022). Immediate feedback in educational game design and its effect on learning. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1090277.pdf

Plass, J. L., Homer, B. D., & Kinzer, C. K. (2015). Foundations of Game-Based Learning. Educational Psychologist, 50(4), 258-283.

Play with Learning. (2012). Constructivism and Games. Retrieved from https://playwithlearning.com/2012/01/20/constructivism-and-games/

Rosenheck, L. (2021). Find the Fun. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/ideas/usable-knowledge/21/06/find-fun

Springer. (2019). Enhancing inquiry learning through game-based learning environments. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40299-019-00486-w

SpringerOpen. (2022). Scaffolding in game-based learning. Retrieved from https://stemeducationjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40594-022-00344-0

UniversityXP. (2021). What is Constructivism? Retrieved from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2021/3/9/what-is-constructivism

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