Digital Games as Analogical Sources for Science Learning
2013 to 2017

This 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.

The study will analyze play experiences and learning outcomes for middle-grade students who play a series of three mimetic or non-mimetic digital games that address foundational science concepts—energy transfer and conservation of energy—by providing game experiences in three topic areas, all of which address these concepts—photosynthesis, electricity, and heat transfer. In a lab-based study, we will compare student engagement and persistence with the mimetic and the non-mimetic games and student approaches to constructing their own models of how the games relate to the target concepts. In a larger, classroom-based study, students will play these games in the course of a six-week intervention that will involve teacher training, gameplay, and the integration of specific, targeted instructional practices into normal instruction.