Thursday, 27 April 2017

A Mission to Mars: Gamifying the Science Classroom

Teams have to complete a number of theoretical and hands-on tasks to win colonists
in this gamified approach to learning about structures.

It’s the year 2040, and you’re part of an intrepid group of colonists bound for Mars’ Jezero Crater to establish a landing site for future colonists. But there’s a problem: the damage to your Cryo sleep has affected your memory, and you’ve forgotten everything you know about structures

If you’re going to build the foundation for a new civilization, you need to re-learn the fundamentals - and fast.

In the Senior Science Lab on the third floor, Grade 7 students have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into this narrative. Working in teams, they have only one focus: to build the colony that can support the greatest number of colonists.

To do that, they’ll need to complete a number of theoretical and hands-on tasks that will teach them all about structures along the way. Science teachers Michael Schmidt and Samantha Moser have developed the “game” such that students can earn colonists by completing activities linked to their learning:

  • Each Theory Lesson earns one food/water token 
  • Each “Check For Understanding” earns 1 building token (these checks allow teachers to assess student learning in real time and redirect if necessary)
  • Building Activities earn one or two colonists, depending on difficulty

Teams need to have one food/water token for each colonist they support. The team with the most colonists at the end of the game wins!

A team conducts a "check for understanding" with Mr. Schmidt. These checks allow
teachers to assess student learning in real time and redirect if necessary.

How does the science lab support this activity?

The space is made up of a large classroom and an attached state-of-the-art lab. Students have plenty of room to rearrange the furniture for their group theory work and to consult with teachers, and the lab provides a quiet venue for conducting experiments. 

Today, one team is in the lab investigating forces such as torque and tension using sponges. Another is meeting with Ms. Moser at the back of the room, completing a check for understanding. A third team is trying out different bridge designs, determining which will support the largest load, while several other groups complete theory lessons at their desks. Though there’s lots of activity in the room, each group is able to complete their work without disruption from others.

It’s clear that students are enthusiastic about this “gamified” approach to structures - and that they like being in the larger space. “I love working on group activities in the big lab,” one student says. “It’s a really fun way to learn a lot of science.”

Another student loves the hands-on nature of the activity. “I like that we get to do lots of different activities, but that we first learn everything we need to back up those activities,” he says. “I can see how what we’re learning would be important for jobs like engineering.”

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