New York Hall of Science Teaches Genetics with Video Games

GeniGames teaches both research and applied science, says SciPlay Director David Kanter. Four versions of the game will be used in different New York City high school science classes this winter, while SciPlay researchers track which elements contribute to students’ understanding of scientific concepts. “We’re measuring learning, but we’re also measuring a lot of different affective dimensions of learning like motivation, engagement, and emotional state,” Kanter says. “As opposed to taking it for granted that games are great and that everything should be gamified, we’re trying to understand what the value is [and] for whom.”

In GeniGames’ first version, students design and breed their perfect pet lizard as they learn about concepts like meiosis and genetic inheritance. The second version adds a bit of narrative backstory to the game and replaces lizards with dragons, using the same scientific curriculum. The third adds an element of competition by asking students to design dragons for specific tasks such as racing or catching fish. And the fourth adds the element of community: SciPlay will host a competitive tournament among participating classrooms. Underlying the game are sound genetic concepts based on the known genomes of various animals, so it is realistic, Kanter says.

The study is set to end in August 2014. “We have a hypothesis that not all of these gaming elements are across-the-board great for all kids, so we will be looking into our data at the level of individual students to figure out for whom does narrative really work,” Kanter says. Data gathered in the high schools could also help SciPlay and its collaborators to eventually design games for younger children, he adds.

Christie Rizk is a reporter and editor based in New York. She was most recently an assistant editor for GenomeWeb’s Genome Technology magazine, and has worked as a reporter, editor, and producer at Reuters, Thomson Financial, and The Brooklyn Paper.

Making Meaning [M2] conference.
October 1, 2012.
A Maker Education Initiative organized by the New York Hall of Science.

Making Meaning [M2] conference.

October 1, 2012.

A Maker Education Initiative organized by the New York Hall of Science.

Ready, Set, Go!

The race is on to get our nation’s kids up to speed on science. With U.S. students getting low global rankings in science and math proficiency, the need for innovative ways to interest youth in the sciences has never been more urgent.

We’re leading the way with SciGames, a new project developed by SciPlay, The Sara Lee Schupf Family Center for Play, Science, and Technology Learning. SciGames uses technology to turn playground play into interactive games. For instance, by attaching speed sensors to a common playground slide, the slide transforms into a powerful educational tool. Instead of simply racing to the bottom of the slide, kids can experiment with different variables, such as what type of material to sit on as they glide down the slide. This turns the act of sliding down a slide into a fun game that explores science concepts such as friction, and kinetic and thermal energy.

SciGames will also include the development of a mobile app that teachers and students can use to aggregate the data collected during the games on the playground and to conduct analysis of that data back in the classroom. This bridge between formal and informal learning environments is a hallmark of our initiatives to improve and reform education in science, technology, engineering and math.

As a finalist for a $3.44 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the SciGames project is poised to reach approximately 8,000 New York students over the next five years. We are one of only 23 foundations, museums and schools that are finalists for an Investing in Innovation Fund, or i3, grant. The i3 program supports projects that will improve student achievement or student growth, decrease dropout rates, or close achievement gaps.

So get ready. If the kids get high marks in this race, we’ll all wind up winning.

Science, Muppet-Style

For the past two weeks, Sesame Street viewers across the country have been treated to a morning science lesson with NYSCI and a loveable muppet named Murray Monster. Murray, with help from a Spanish-speaking lamb called Ovejita, cheered on as NYSCI Science Instructor Adiel Fernandez gave short lessons that encourage kids to learn science through design and think like engineers. Adiel is an educator with NYSCI’s Sara Lee Schupf Family Center for Play, Science, and Technology Learning (SciPlay), which created the science lessons. 

The Sesame Street episodes, filmed in NYSCI’s Rocket Park Mini Golf, Rocket Park, and Science Playground, ran locally on PBS stations in New York and New Jersey, as well as in Nebraska, Montana, West Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Arizona and California.

See if you can spot NYSCI next week on Sesame Street on WNET Thirteen (October 20 at 10 am and October 21 at 7 am), WLIW21 (October 24 at 9 am), and NJTV (October 20 at 11 am).

SciPlay Research Prototyping with Adiel Fernandez

This is a brief clip introducing a component of a SciPlay research project. Adiel Fernandez discusses the project and a group of visiting students show how it’s done.

SciPlay Research Prototyping with Sameer Honwad

This is a brief clip introducing a component of a SciPlay research project. Sameer Honwad discusses the project and a group of visiting students show how it’s done.

SciPlay & Joan Ganz Cooney Center @ Sesame Workshop ebook study sign-up

SciPlay is teaming up with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop for a research study on how families with children ages 3 – 5 choose books to read together. If you’re interested in participating, please fill out the survey at the link below, and then come out to the New York Hall of Science on August 25 or 26!

Children will receive a small Sesame Street gift for participating:

Studying E-Books at the New York Hall of Science

Studying E-Books at the New York Hall of Science by Zachary Levine | Jul 18, 2011, published in The Cooney Center Blog.

Just over a week ago, I had the pleasure of assisting members of the Cooney Center staff in a two-day research study at the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) in Queens, NY. The study, conducted in corroboration with NYSCI, focused on the interaction between children (ages 3-5) and their caregivers when reading two different science books: one regular book and one on the iPad. Would the iPad serve as a distraction to children or would it actually promote as much parent-child conversation and interaction as the print book?

In order to answer these important questions, the children and their caregivers were asked a series of questions after each book was finished as well as at the end of the session. In theory, the research study seemed like a fantastic idea but you can never be certain until you try it out in the field. So, off we went to Queens. When we arrived at NYSCI for the study, Dr. David Kanter, who is founding director of SciPlay, warmly welcomed us. (SciPlay, formally known as The Sara Lee Schupf Family Center for Play, Science, and Technology Learning, was launched in 2010 as a design and research center fpr teaching children about science through play.) He then brought us to the Preschool Place, where we would be conducting our study. I was assigned the job of recruiting and signing up families for the study—a worthy job for a first time researcher! As families starting pouring into the museum I thought that recruiting would be a piece of cake. Boy was I wrong!

The main problem seemed to be that both the parents and their children didn’t want to sit down and read two books. They either didn’t have enough time or the kids refused. After all, a science museum with cool gadgets and a mini golf course is kind of hard to compete with! Nevertheless, once I got people to sign up for the study, everything went pretty smoothly thanks to the Cooney Center’s great research staff. Of course, a few families walked out in the middle of the study because their child couldn’t sit still, but overall, most families were very cooperative. In addition, I found that this type of research really excited a lot of families and many even asked us to put them on our mailing list so that they could see the study when it was finished. In the coming weeks we will be reviewing the results of the study and I think they will be quite fascinating. We hope to share them soon! I want to give a special thanks to Dr. David Kanter, Alice Stevenson, and the staff at the New York Hall of Science for their help at the museum. It was truly the perfect setup.

Zachary Levine is an intern with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center this summer. He is a rising sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is studying international relations. In summer 2010, he worked at E-line Media as a playtester for Gamestar Mechanic and during the Spring 2011 semester, he worked at the Morgridge Institute for Research as a playtester for a newly released iPad game called Virulent.