Video Games in the classroom-A Professional Development Course
Video Games like Immune Attack present scientific concepts in an intuitive format. Watching a cell react to a chemical signal in a movie like Inner Life of the Cell is helpful in visualizing the concepts of cell biology. But it is much more memorable if we must control the cell’s response to the chemical signal and know how it is required to vanquish the enemy bacteria that are multiplying out of control. Additionally, many jobs involve adding art to science: Medical Illustration, video game development, and human computer interaction are all growing fields. Creating and even using a video game and then discussing it are excellent introductions to these fields.
Melanie Stegman, Ph.D. is a biochemist who is creating and evaluating the much anticipated sequel to Immune Attack. Additionally, Dr. Stegman has served as a subject matter expert for high school students in a summer ITEST program in Washington D.C for the past two years. Here, students enrolled in the “Be the Game” class were learning to program games in Game Maker. Additionally, Dr Stegman has used game design to teach molecular cell biology to high school students at the American Museum of Ntural History. Based on her extensive experience in learning games design and evaluation, Dr. Stegman has created some guidelines for getting the most out of a video games in the science classroom.
Two methods exist, each with their own benefits and challenges. First, more and more games exist that address science topics, and many games exist that were not intended to address science but do. See Dr. Stegman’s continuously updated Learning Technology Blog at The ScienceGameCenter.org for existing science-related video and card games. Second, designing or programming a game can be an excellent project for students to work on with a collaborating scientist. Below is an outline of what Dr. Stegman would like to present to any teacher interested in integrating video games into their science class.
Video Games and Historical Novels.
A serious video game is like a historical novel. It is a story told in a setting that is somehow very accurate, but it is still a story, and it must operate under constrains similar to any other story. A story must be engaging, or else it is not read and therefore useless. To be engaging the story may be presented from a certain character’s perspective. It may ignore some events. It may misrepresent the passage of time. Perhaps this is how the main character experienced the events. A historical novel is different from the omniscient and disinterested voice in our textbooks, but it is a necessary addition if we are to create a deeper understanding of the past culture and history.
A video game can add such detail into science. Just like a historical novel, a game may present the facts from a unique perspective, such as from the enzyme’s point of view. This view may not be complete, but it can be enlightening and motivating to the student. Additionally, games have a way of drawing us in and helping us process much complicated data while still making us feel like we are having fun. Just play Angry Birds for five minutes. You have learned about trajectories, momentum, and you have perfected by trial and error your skills (bird sling shot skills, in this case). Because the game is well designed, you played through, longer that you may have read through a paragraph.
Kurt Squire writes that students learn a systemic of history from playing the game Civilization (1). His work outlines a method, and a set of potential obstacles to account for, when introducing a video game into a classroom. This workshop will discuss the use of video games in the classroom as a means of deepening student understanding and providing personalized relevance to facts to be learned.
1. Designing Centers of Expertise for Academic Learning Through Video Games Kurt D. Squire; Ben DeVane; Shree Durga. Theory into Practice. 47:240 – 251. 2008.
2. Students Designing Video Games about Immunology: Insights for Science Learning, Neda Khalili, Kimberly Sheridan, Asia Williams, Kevin Clark & Melanie Stegman. Computers in the Schools, 28:228-240. 2011.
Immune Attack is free for everyone to download here: www.ImmuneAttack.org Watch our video of Immune Attack!
Our Learning Technologies Blog: All of these materials are posted here.
Our list of video game and card games that teach science. Please contribute! Add games, your reviews, your students can review. Share your experiences with other teachers and read about theirs.
Our current game is Immune Defense. It will be a web based game, or a downloadable game for Mac and PC. Ead more about it at