Mixed Day at NSTA

19 March EdGE @ NSTA

A mixed day of showing Boneyards to educators and kids that stopped by the TERC booth. Teachers continued to come up with different ways to use it. One math teacher and I talked about how kids might figure out a way to map out the place, to see if they can find ways to calculate scale and distances in-world. Another wanted to send her kids in as the first naturalists to explore the area, document what lived there, and determine what the ecology of the world was. She wanted to have them argue about whether or not such a world was possible. We talked about how arguing is good for science. Scientists, counter to what people think, do it a lot. But the way they do it matters and that’s what a lot of people don’t understand. We agreed that if Boneyards gets people arguing about scientific things, like scientists do, we’d be pretty psyched.

One of my most enjoyable visitors was a kid, the daughter of a teacher. When left to wander about she picked up on some symbols in the game: “hey, what’s that symbol, symbols always mean something in games.” Sharp eye, good gamer instinct. Can’t wait until she gets to really explore and try to make sense of the whole game.

The day also had a few reality checks for me. A few visitors lamented about not having time to use anything like this game in their classroom because they were too tied to having their kids prepare for high stakes tests. However, they could see their kids using it outside of class and maybe trying to incorporate it in some way. And of course, there was a handful that just didn’t see how letting kids spend more time in imaginary worlds, even if there were science related challenges, was a good use of time. Fair enough. But, with research pointing to more and more people choosing to spend time in these games, it makes sense to EdGE to research the possibilities such worlds offer, not lament about what is lost.

Every encounter taught me something, and gave me ideas about what we might do as we continue to explore how far EdGE can push. Everyone wanted to see the finished game, and were interested, like many gamers are, in what the endgame, or true challenge will be. I was only able to show them bits and pieces of the beginning, some of the places they could explore, and hint at what a player might or might not do in the game. I made it clear that we don’t have lesson plans, we don’t have step-by-step instructions, it’s not part of our plan at this time–some wondered if they could create such things and share them with others. Simple answer to that one, go for it!

Our task for this game is not to create a new curriculum, a new lesson, or anything that necessarily looks like anything else teachers may use to teach science. Our intent is to build something where gamers are challenged to explore, collect, and figure out the mysteries and workings of the Martian Boneyards.

That last sentence is a pretty good definition of what science is all about.



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