April 4, 2014
This paper, presented at the 2014 American Educational Research Association meeting in Philadelphia, PA, reports on a test of the impact of a digital game, Exploring Photosynthesis, on student learning. Exploring Photosynthesis is one of four supplementary modules developed as part of a federally funded research and development project called Possible Worlds. Each of the four modules focuses on one difficult-to-teach topic and includes a digital game and a series of related in-class, non-digital activities.
The Possible Worlds project sought to test the potential of portable, digital games as a way to provide this type of preparatory, pre-instructional experience. It draws on Bransford and Schwartz’s “preparation for future learning” instructional model (1999), and positions digital gameplay as an activity that engages middle-grade students in repeated interactions, through core game mechanics, that are structurally analogous but nominally unrelated to the target concepts. These repeated, shared in-game experiences then become a source for grounded analogical reasoning during teacher-led instruction. In this approach, digital gameplay becomes a necessary—but not sufficient—first step in an instructional process that includes multiple forms of engagement with the target concepts.