Making Molecular Biology Video Games!

McKinley Technology High School students, and other students from across Washington, DC, learned to make their own video games this summer, using a program called Game Maker.  They also learned to create their own 3D images. What kind of games dis they make?   What kinds of objects did they model?

Well, this summer at McKinley Tech kids made games about gene regulation and inter neuronal signaling.  And the 3D Models they made are of Neurons, their Myelin sheath and of motor proteins carrying their cargo to the end of axons.  Not what you expected, is it?

Immune Attack can teach players about the molecular processes in the game.  But Immune Attack also inspires students to make their own game.

When I go over to McKinley Tech to talk to the students, I usually find fun looking images on their computer desktop backgrounds.  Popular singers, movies, and animation characters all show up on the computers… but this summer, on my third visit, I noticed that one of the desktop background images was changed to a really neat image taken with a scanning electron microscope of an artery full of red blood cells.

I went to McKinley 4 times this summer, once a week. I gave an initial 30 minute introduction into basic neurology (really basic, I mean I’m a biochemist, not a neuologist.)   I explained the was ion channels allow an electrical impulse to travel from the cell body to the end of the axon.  I explained how Myelin helps speed the electrical impulse.  I explained that receptors on the cell body receive chemical signals and certain combinations of those signals can cause the electrical impulse to start.   And I explained how some chemical signals cause a signal inside the cell that sends in turn another signal to alter gene expression.  Yes, that is right: I explained a LOT more molecular biology than High School sophomores ever learn.

But these kids we not learning biology, they were learning how to listen to a “subject matter expert” and how to design a video game based on what she says. While I talked their eyes darted about and I could see creative sparks all around. After my presentation I fielded questions for 30 more minutes.

Each time I returned to McKinley, I fielded another 20 minutes of intense questions from each of 4 groups of Game Maker students. The 3D modeling students, who are using Maya, asked many questions, too. But their models clearly showed that they had done a lot of excellent research independently.

Here is the story that eSchool News wrote about our four week project:

http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/top-news/index.cfm?i=60054

And finally, I need to thank Dr. Kevin Clark, professor in the George Mason University Instructional Technology, and Mr. Rick Kelsey STEM coordinator of McKinley Tech for inviting me to participate in their summer technology program.

If you are interested in having your students create video games about molecular biology, contact me.  Creating a learning is an objective that requires much learning and makes it fun at the same time.

The games and the moels that the McKinley students made will be posted soon!

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