Category Archives: Uncategorized

December 2011 Newsletter

Hi Everyone!

The The December Learning Technologies Newsletter is HERE!

I forgot to mention that the annual STEM Video Game Challenge is ON!  Middle school and High School kids can program or design on paper their own video games, about STEM or about anything at all.  Go check it out and get your kids involved!  I was one of the judges last year.  The games were fun, really innovative.  I suggest making a video game in place of a science fair project.  Go to National Lab Network and ask a scientist to come to talk to your class about their chosen video game topics while they are under development!  Deadline is in March!

Finally, most embarrassingly, the unsubscribe link in the December newsletter malfunctioned.  If you want to unsubscribe from all of my email lists, Click HERE.  *Sorry*

Immersive Learning as the Educational Methodology for the 21st Century

Tell me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. 

Benjamin Franklin found this statement true for himself, in his time.  Given the evolution of learning and how we process information in today’s day and age, what Ben Franklin said in the 1700’s is a profound message for how we learn and how we can teach in the 21st Century.   And we are fortunate that today we have a broader spectrum of tools which are accessible to a larger audience.

Immersive learning is the future.  It has always been the way human beings have learned best.  It happens that the evolution of education in the United States has distanced immersion from the educational process.  Even as small children, we learn spatial relations by reaching out to touch everything (and then chewing on it).  We learn language by listening and starting to make sounds ourselves.  We learn the names of colors by identifying a sound of a word with visual input.  We learn because a contextual world surrounds us and involves us, literally, in every step we take.

Today most K-12 based learning (indeed most learning of any kind) takes place out of context, in a rather passive manner.  People read, report, present, but rarely are they in the environment in which the content they need to comprehend is active, usable and demanding their response.  Video games change this.

To learn biology, students may finally get a chance to dissect a frog, but until that point they were looking at text books, movies, illustrations, reading and discussing.  When it comes to molecules and their functions, these topics are “abstract,” difficult to introduce, and even more difficult to testThe video game Immune Attack lets players activate individual proteins and see what effect they have on the body.  Immune Attack is listed as the #1 game at because it is popular with players.  As a further example, the video game, Discover Babylon (available for free at, shows players real artifacts from library collections displayed not on sterile shelves, but in use by real families in ancient times.  Also a highly popular game, rates it at #3.

It is this interaction which makes teaching tools such as video games so vital to education.  They provide immersion within the context of what is being learned.  Students become the activity about which they are learning.  They are the cell which experiences the energy boost when the right protein locks in; they feel the tense desperation of being a white blood cell fighting the uncontrollable growth of an infection.  In short, through games they are involved in the content they are studying.

We’ve been conducting play tests with middle and high school students of our Immune Attack I (AI-I) and while statistics are still being compiled, I can say that watching how the students interact with the game and then seeing the analytics recording the knowledge they have gained has been fascinating.  It continues to reinforce my conviction that video games, gamiifcation of content (which means adding game-oriented elements such as health meters and leaderboards) and other forms of interactive learning will become the norm of how we choose to educate people of all ages in the near future.

Supreme Court protects video games same as books and plays

Here is the press release from the Entertainment Software Association and the ESRB:


June 27, 2011

ESA Welcomes Sweeping U.S. Supreme Court

Ruling on Constitutional Protections for Video Games

Landmark Ruling Hailed as a Win for First Amendment and Artists

June 27, 2011 – Washington, DC – The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) today welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that underscored constitutional protections for video games, developers, and video game industry artists. At issue was a 2005 California statute restricting the sale and rental of computer and video games. The ESA, the lead party in the case Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association/Entertainment Software Association, argued that the statute presented unconstitutional limitations on expression, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, holding the California law unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

“This is a historic and complete win for the First Amendment and the creative freedom of artists and storytellers everywhere. Today, the Supreme Court affirmed what we have always known – that free speech protections apply every bit as much to video games as they do to other forms of creative expression like books, movies and music,” said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the ESA, which represents the U.S. computer and video game industry. “The Court declared forcefully that content-based restrictions on games are unconstitutional; and that parents, not government bureaucrats, have the right to decide what is appropriate for their children.”

In its 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court cited many of the same reasons cited by lower courts when striking down this and similar statutes: that video games contain expression that is protected as much as the best of literature; that California had not shown that video games were harmful to minors; that less restrictive means of achieving the state’s intended goal of protecting children from violent content exist, including the Entertainment Software Rating Board rating system; and that parents rather than the government should have primary responsibility for what games their children play.

Because the California statute attempted to restrict free speech on the basis of content, the state had to prove a compelling government interest for the law and also that California’s proposed remedy was the narrowest possible way of furthering that interest. The U.S. Supreme Court said California failed in both respects.

In the decision, Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, stated with regard to the validity of the scientific evidence put forth, “The State’s evidence is not compelling. California relies primarily on the research of Dr. Craig Anderson and a few other research psychologists whose studies purport to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children. These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively (which would at least be a beginning). Instead, ‘[n]early all of the research is based on correlation, not evidence of causation, and most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology.’”

Of the “least restrictive” requirement, the majority opinion stated, “California also cannot show that the Act’s restrictions meet the alleged substantial need of parents who wish to restrict their children’s access to violent videos. The video-game industry’s voluntary rating system already accomplishes that to a large extent.”

In closing, Justice Scalia, again for the majority, writes, “California’s effort to regulate violent video games is the latest episode in a long series of failed attempts to censor violent entertainment for minors…Even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply.”

“We are very gratified that our arguments – and those of over 180 other groups and individuals from across the ideological spectrum – were heard in this case,” said Gallagher. “The Court has now definitively held that legislative attempts to restrict video game content will be struck down.

“It is time for elected officials to stop wasting time and public funds seeking unconstitutional restrictions on video games. Instead, we invite them to join with us to raise awareness and use of the highly effective tools that already exist to help that parents choose games suitable for their children.

“Congratulations are due to our legal team, including Paul Smith of Jenner & Block who did a superb job in oral arguments before the Court. Ken Doroshow, the ESA’s former general counsel and lead architect of our industry’s legal strategy, also deserves an enormous amount of credit for spearheading our winning approach.”

The Entertainment Software Association is the U.S. association dedicated to serving the business and public affairs needs of companies publishing interactive games for video game consoles, handheld devices, personal computers, and the Internet. The ESA offers services to interactive entertainment software publishers including a global anti-piracy program, owning the E3 Expo, business and consumer research, federal and state government relations, First Amendment and intellectual property protection efforts. For more information, please visit




June 27, 2011

NEW YORK, NY – The following statement was issued today by Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) president Patricia Vance regarding the Supreme Court’s decision rendered in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association/Entertainment Software Association:

“ESRB welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision in this case, especially given its validation of the ESRB rating system as an effective and reliable tool that parents use to decide which video games are appropriate for their children and family. Today’s decision acknowledges the value and effectiveness of the ESRB rating system, the Federal Trade Commission’s positive assessment of our self-regulatory regime, and the latest research showing that game retailers overwhelmingly enforce their voluntary store policies regarding the sale of Mature-rated games. In striking this law the Court has made clear that the video game industry effectively empowers parents to be the ones to decide which games are right for their children.

“The most constructive means of ensuring that children play age-appropriate video games is to educate parents about the tools at their disposal, including ESRB’s two-part rating system (age categories and content descriptors) and rating summaries available at and via a free mobile app. We remain eager to work with government officials, legislators, parents groups and any others who wish to participate in or otherwise support these constructive efforts, which achieve the intended goal without infringing Constitutional rights.”



(This was all in the ESA press release today.)

A History of Immune Attack

Nanobot searches for Selectin so that the Monocytes can transmigrate... and save Roz.


2001 The Beginning:  Gathering Evidence.

The Federation of American Scientists started gathering research about how technology could be used to transform education in 2001.  Under the guidance of their new president Henry Kelly, the FAS launched the Learning Science and Technology Research and Development Roadmap project, which brought together approximately 100 researchers from the academic, government and corporate sectors. This extensive collaborative effort was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation to FAS-LTP (Grant number 0226421), the Department of Education, as well as the Hewlett Foundation, Microsoft Corporation, and Carnegie Corporation.  The Roadmaps were published in 2003 on the FAS-LTP website.

The collaborative work of the roadmap participants identified key research and development areas for next-generation learning systems; pedagogy and instructional design; building physically correct interactive simulations; dialogue and question management, learner modeling, and tools for assembling and constructing learning systems from these components.  These roadmaps were presented to Congress, and provided the background data for the development of legislation that was passed in 2008 as part of the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  This legislation authorizes the establishment of a National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies.

Games can teach, we’ll prove it!

FAS began its bold experiment to PROVE that video game could teach and train in 2004. The newly formed FAS-Learning Technologies Program applied for and received three peer-reviewed, federally-funded grants to design and develop learning games.  In addition to Immune Attack, FAS-LTP has also produced a simulation trainer called Multi Casualty Incident Responder and a game called Discover Babylon.  Multi Casualty Incident Responder combines realistic simulations with advanced training technologies to teach firefighters.  Discover Babylon is an immersive 3D game for 8-12 year olds that teaches about the significance of Mesopotamia in world culture using library and museum objects.


Gathering More Evidence.

In October 2005, FAS-LTP convened the Educational Games Summit ( which was the first meeting of government, academia, private foundations and the entertainment software industry to address the challenges of developing, marketing and funding educational games.  The resulting report, on Educational Games.pdf summarizes the research about why video games are expected to teach well, and in particular, why complex video games (like Immune Attack) should teach the skills that high wage jobs demand, such as data collection and decision making.  Henry Kelly, President, Federation of American Scientists, as quoted in the Educational Games Summit report, says:

“Game developers have instinctively implemented a lot of the recommendations of learning scientists and used them to help players acquire a skill set that closely matches the kind of thinking, planning, learning, and technical skills that seem to be increasingly demanded in business. In the game world, the measure of a player’s success is complex and practical. Can you use your knowledge? Can you feed your people? Can you cure the patient? Can you beat Dan Snyder at his own football franchise?”

Immune Attack!  2004-2008.

With a competitive grant from the National Science Foundation (Award number 0427827), FAS lead a collaboration with Immunologists at Brown University, with graphic art experts at University of Southern California.  We chose to create a biology game, because of the need to engage more students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related fields.  We choose immunology because high school teachers indicated that this subject is one of the most difficult to present.

Game development is an iterative process, and scientists, teachers and students all had input.  Garry Gaber, CEO and President of Escape Hatch Entertainment, rose to the challenge.  Escape Hatch provided graphics and game mechanisms in Immune Attack that are not only fun and exciting for students to play, but that have been patiently modeled and re-modeled in response to scientists’ critiques.  This unique interaction requires Mr. Gaber’s personal dedication to the creation of an excellent educational video game, a sense of humor and collaboration on the part of our scientists, and the experience with maintaining unique collaborations that FAS-LTP provides.

Key parts of the game mechanism are that every object in the game functions as it should in nature, except for the fictional, cell sized submarine (called a nanobot) that the player pilots remotely through the body.  In this manner, game actions that are not true to nature are clear, because they involve the nanobot.  Additionally, great care was taken to generate the communication that comes from the game’s “on board advisors” so that it helps the player play the game while always presenting information that is true to science.

Once a working engine, working graphics generation system and storyline had been established, the work of testing Immune Attack with students could begin.  The most important factor in educational game development is, after all, that students should be engaged.  To this end, FAS-LTP spent an entire school year’s time testing the Immune Attack prototypes with students in 5 high school across the country.  After each evaluation with students, their comments and reactions were used to design the next prototype.  Finally a game mechanism and modified story line were finalized that was engaging for students and accurate to the science.


In May, 2008, the final version of Immune Attack was made available for free download on the FAS website [].  This version of Immune Attack is a proof of concept, a huge step toward demonstrating that a video game can be made about science.  A video game storyline can be written about cells and proteins that is compelling enough to make students want to play the game.  And importantly, video game action can be created that is true to science.   Now, for the very first time, students can learn about innate immunity painlessly.  Well, not without repeatedly dying virtual deaths in virtual exploding fireballs.  But now immunity, and the cell biology and the protein biochemistry involved in immune reactions are presented to students in an familiar format: the video game.  Information is presented intuitively, players need to accomplish a goal so they seek out the information rather than listen passively, and the constant challenge of beating the game keeps them on task longer than anyone could ever listen to a lecture on innate immunity.  The richness of the video game arena is proven to be an excellent home for the Cellular and Molecular science of the human immune system.

Immune Attack has been downloaded by over 9000 people.  Five hundred teachers have registered with us as interested in evaluating Immune Attack in their classrooms.  Immune Attack is featured on the AAAS website ScienceNetlinks.  Seed magazine wrote an article “Gaming on the Shoulders of Giants” about us.  Nature Medicine featured Immune Attack in an article.  Edutopia has made two videos about McKinley Technology High School students using Immune Attack: these students served as beta testers for Immune Attack from the very beginning.

Immune Attack 2009-2014.

Melanie Stegman, Ph.D. was hired by FAS-LTP in Summer 2008 to be project manager for Immune Attack.  Melanie is leading the evaluation of Immune Attack and the development of Immune Attack 2.0.   To support the evaluation and distribution Immune Attack, much appreciated funding comes from the Entertainment Software Association Foundation, who have been dedicated to Immune Attack for over three years.  In order to develop Immune Attack from a proof of concept into an even more engaging game with ever more science included, Melanie has received a very competitive grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Grant Number: 1R25AI084848-0110.  Collaborating with FAS_LTP in this work is the Maine International Center for Digital Learning, who helping us greatly with evaluation design.  And EscapeHatch Entertainment, of course, because they are best game designer/programmer ever.

Additionally, other important funding has come to Immune Attack from Amgen Corporation, PHrMA, Verizon Foundation.

Many goals remain to be accomplished.  Most importantly we must evaluate the effect of playing Immune Attack on students knowledge and on their attitudes toward cellular and molecular science.  Evaluations are underway, and any teacher, teaching any subject to 7th though 12th grade students is invited to participate in our evaluation. Preliminary data points out that students are learning.  Students who play Immune Attack learn about the functions of Monocytes, about proteins mediating the functions of Monocytes, and about molecular interactions among human complement factors, bacterial surface proteins and how cytokines are produced and what effect those cytokines have on white blood cells and vein endothelial cells.  Most promising is our preliminary data that students are gaining confidence with molecular and cellular biology.

Our preliminary data is so promising that the American Society of Cell Biology decided to put our abstract in their Press Book.  Our evaluations have been small scale so far, but we hope that in the next 4 months that we will be able to get about 20-30 teachers to evaluate Immune Attack in their classrooms.  The evaluation requires three 40-minute sessions in an online computer lab.  Computers need 2GHz processors and 1 GB of ram, a video card 64 MB or better and and must be running Windows XP, Vista or 7.

Scientists, we need you!

In order to develop new game levels that are full of exciting game play we need intricate molecular details about chemistry, physics, chemical engineering, nanotechnology, biochemistry, immunology and cell biology.  We have 20 dedicated scientists already serving on our Scientific Advisory Group.  Acting as a board of reviewers, these scientists keep Immune Attack accurate by “peer reviewing” the game.  There enthusiasm and expert assistance will keep Immune Attack an exciting true to life adventure!

If you would like to serve on the Scientific Advisory Group, or as an advisor as a teacher, please contact us at immuneattack at  We are having a great time presenting real cellular and molecular science to the public and we welcome you!

Art Imitating Life Science

So, we make a video game intended to teach students Immunology and cell biology.  So we are obviously interested in the many ways that a creative media like video games, graphic design, song writing, story writing, and even music video can be used to present science effectively.  And let is also remember that the process of writing that story is actually a rigorous course of education for the author.   Students that make games, songs and stories based on science have to learn the science first…..  And here is my latest discovery:  Regulatin Genes.  Enjoy it for yourself.  And pass it on to your students and friends.

You can contribute your own video to us, and also watch for the next Hotchalk/FAS Virtual Science Fair!