Category Archives: Teacher’s Guide

Taking best advantage of Learning Technologies.

E.O. Wilson says Games are the future of Education

Dr. E. O. Wilson is interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition by Will Wright, the creator of the video game, The Sims.  Dr. Wilson is Professor Emeritus (retired) at Harvard.

You can listen to the interview on NPR’s website. At the beginning of the interview, E. O. Wilson says that games are the future of education.  He says that gaming allows us to learn the way that we evolved to learn: by doing.

Who is Dr. Wilson?
From NPR site:
“Biologist E. O. Wilson, professor emeritus at Harvard University, is a two-time Pulitzer-winning ant expert who helped develop theories of island biogeography, chemical ecology, and sociobiology. A leader in the modern environmental movement, Wilson has devoted his life to understanding how all forms of life are connected.”

Who is Will Wright?
Have you heard of the video game, The Sims? Well, before the Sims, Will Wright created a game SimAnt, in 1991. And according to his story on NPR this morning, Will used Dr. Wilson’s work on ants to create the scientifically accurate game SimAnt.

Here we have another argument in favor of teaching using games. Games allow us to Do Things. FAS has long held this position, and we are always happy to hear when others say so, too.

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!

Using Immune Attack to teach about Internet research.

I am experimenting with using Immune Attack to get students interested in science.  In particular, to get kids to ask questions about nanotech, chemistry or biology, etc in the game and to research their answer on the Web.  I presented this idea to the students of Mr. Kenneth Leslie’s engineering class at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, DC.  I asked, “Do you think we could really build a Nanobot, and if we did what would be build it out of?”  I had prepared three questions:  How much pressure would it have to withstand?  What material could withstand that pressure?  What would it look like?

The McKinley students answered with questions of their own, ones that had never crossed my mind:  “How will we control the Nanobot from outside the body?”  “What kind of motor will it have?”   Certainly a miniature motor or even a radio transmitter will not fit into a 50 micrometer box.  A Nanobot must truly be impossible.

We made a list of questions, small, easy to focus on.
1.  How much pressure is in arteries?  In veins?
2.  How much pressure can Titanium withstand?
3.  How much pressure can Aluminum withstand?
4.  How much pressure can Nanotubes withstand?

The goals were simple, write a 3 sentence report with 2 references.  The first reference could be Wikipedia, the second reference should be from a peer reviewed paper, or from the website of a professor at a university.

This one day’s experiment was successful.  The students were focused on their tasks, as the questions were not too difficult but still very interesting.  I never did get the actual repots from Mr. Leslie, but we have plans to create similar class experiences for this coming school year.

After we release Immune Attack 3.0 in October, 2009, I plan to encourage students from all over to submit these 3 sentence reports to our online Mission Intelligence database.  Students, teachers and scientists can vote for the database entries that they like.  We incorporate the best into the Mission Intelligence Database for Immune Attack 3.0.

If any teacher is interested in discussing this with us, please reply below, or email me at mstegman at fas dot org.

Science on Video

The Virtual Science Fair……

The ability to convey scientific concepts in an engaging way is important. Our society and government, every company and every family must address problems of molecular science every day… No, really, we do! How does chemical pollution kill animals? Why is heating food in a microwave bad for us? No one wants to hurt the environment or eat harmful food. But who knows what the data is and who knows how to interpret it? And who can explain it to me, my grandmother, and my congressman so that we can all make smart decisions about recycling, plastics, cooking, whether to use detergents… etc?

Who will explain the science of tomorrow to us? It will be the students of today. And we, at The Federation of American Scientists and at Hotchalk, are happy to have an opportunity to train the science interpreters of tomorrow. The Virtual Science Fair requires students to make a 4 minute video in which they explain a scientific concept of their choice. The video format may be 1) a recording of a particular experiment that the students designed and performed, 2) a song/poem/performance art, or 3) a computer generated/photographic video with no actors. Each video must address all aspects of a scientific presentation: Background and significance, Choice of methods, Experimental procedures, Analysis of results, and Discussion of the relevance of the results.

Watch the winning videos and see for yourself how a few high school students.