A high school biology teacher in Blacksburg, Va., talks with Spotlight about the new video game she designed to help her students analyze evolutionary science and how gaming can expand learning beyond the classroom.

When biology teacher Jennifer Biedler first got the idea for a video game based on scientific principles, she asked her seventh-grade students in Blacksburg, Va., to investigate the accuracy of the popular game “Spore,” in which players are challenged to invent their own universe, complete with life forms. Biedler’s students created a log of their findings.

“The discussion that took place really was amazing,” Biedler, who now teaches 10th grade, told Spotlight. “The students couldn’t say enough. They were actually arguing about science.”

“Mission Evolution,” the game Biedler eventually created from these classroom experiments, recently won a Game Changers Award for a new and creative game play experience that leverages principles of science, technology, engineering and math. The award was part of the 2010 Digital Media and Learning Competition.

In “Mission: Evolution,” students work together to identify principles of evolutionary change that are absent from the off-the-shelf version “Spore,” and then introduce these principles into their own missions in “Spore Galactic Adventures.”

Biedler says analyzing “Spore” has really helped spur students’ interest in and enthusiasm for science—so much so that they’re “walking right out of the classroom and heading home to play.” She notes that the students have performed well on standardized assessments, but ultimately they’re motivated by the knowledge that the material they learn will be used to build something in a gaming environment.

Bielder is working with other organizations to help come up with a way to assess how well students are learning from gaming. But evidence, so far, she says, is promising.

“Students are synthesizing and making new material,” she said. “They are going to take their knowledge about evolution, and I have a feeling about many different biological concepts by the time we start really building our games, and they are going to build something beyond what I think of.

“What I like about these workshops is students say things I didn’t think of—and that’s theirs. They take ownership of that, and they take pride in that.”

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