Digital Games

We were first drawn to researching digital games not only because of their prominent place in the lives of many children, but also because of the unique affordances we thought they might provide for educational use. A child may find the repetitive nature of some traditional learning tasks to be tedious and boring, but that same child may repeat the same operations over and over in a digital game without losing focus, as long as they are progressing in the game. Digital games can provide access to information that is otherwise invisible: how seeds grow into plants by breaking down and recombining molecules; how electricity travels from one place to another; how wind patterns move storms across the globe. They also can provide models for how to ask questions about the world of the past and the world in which we live today.

Our projects have examined the uses of digital games in many domains, including STEM, literacy, and social studies. We have served as evaluators and as researchers and developers, advising on efforts to create games that are pedagogically rich, developmentally appropriate, and engaging for children to play. And we have studied not just the games themselves, but also what gameplay can tell teachers about student understanding of underlying concepts.

Digital Games as Analogical Sources for Science LearnngThis NSF-funded project will generate critical new knowledge about how specific features of digital gameplay and subsequent instruction for middle-grades science learning can support consolidation and transfer of conceptual understanding beyond the gameworld. The study will explore questions about representation in the gameworld by investigating whether and how middle-grade students’ play in mimetic (visually imitative of the target concepts) and non-mimetic gameworlds makes distinctive contributions to students’ understanding of difficult science concepts. The study also will explore questions about making intuitive experiences in the gameworld accessible for consolidation and application by investigating the role of explicit analogical mapping during instruction as a method for supporting sense-making and consolidation of emergent conceptual models of the target science concepts. We will investigate the interrelationship of these features of gameplay as a step in the science-learning process.

• Finding Our Way Around—This project is a research and development collaboration between EDC|CCT and SRI (the research team) and media developers from WGBH. The project, funded by the Heising-Simon Foundation, aims to create a suite of tablet-based games and activities that promote preschool children’s understanding of spatial concepts and reasoning, ultimately preparing them for success in kindergarten and beyond. Through creating digitally enhanced activities, along with hands-on caregiver and child co-engagement activities, this project also supports caregivers in their ability to mathematize events in daily life.

• Possible Worlds—Through a major grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, CCT led a National Research and Development Center on Instructional Technology called Possible Worlds. The six-year effort developed four supplemental curricular modules intended to improve science learning for middle-school students, and conducted research on their use in classrooms. Each module included a digital game and associated instructional materials to be used in the classroom. The modules were designed to be integrated into regular science curricula and to support teachers in teaching topics that are the subject of common, persistent scientific misconceptions: photosynthesis, heredity, electricity, and heat transfer. The Possible Worlds website offers free access to the digital games and to a fun classroom activity that helps students develop the critical thinking and science literacy skills emphasized in the Next Generation Science Standards.