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SciSkills Quest

Building the Growth Mindset with Science Video Games

One of the environments that games best simulate is one of open exploration. When you engage with a game it is an open space to explore and try. While often times there is a way to “win” and “lose” game spaces feel far less restrictive than tests or assignments where the implications for failure are much greater.

This makes games a wonderful space to experiment and grow, especially for young minds. They provide a very well-suited environment for teaching concepts such as scientific inquiry and growth.

The Growth Mindset

In partnering with Mindset Works for this project, we learned a lot about the Growth Mindset:

[Within the Growth Mindset] students tackle challenges because they understand that learning takes a lot of effort. They don't give up when things get difficult, because they have strategies to persevere. They take risks, participate in class, and understand that mistakes are normal when people try hard things.

The Growth Mindset is all about learning from your mistakes, and building a sense of reliance. It’s understanding that some things need practice and you can always improve. Building a game that educated children on scientific best practices that utilized the Growth Mindset was a natural fit.

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We worked with the MindsetWorks Team to breakdown all of the learning objectives that would be best for this age group in a science curriculum:

  • Learning to observe and then make conclusions

  • Connecting evidence to create a hypothesis

  • Understanding cause and effect relationships

  • Willingness to learn and try again

Building a World of Discovery

Given the goals above, we dove into a design process with the Mindset Works team. We designed a number of games that helped encourage practicing good science, tested each one regularly with student groups, and continued to iterate and improve upon them.

Here are how a few of those mechanics panned out:

Your Science Team

We decided to surround the player with a team of peers. This was important because it helped embody different concepts within a character: Ving takes care of the birds, while Aura is all about the graphs and data maps. This painted an easy over-aching narrative that could be expanded as needed, even as the game grew. In this setting you are part of a team that explores the universe and helps solve important scientific challenges.

Helping Save the Birds

Our main scientific challenge for this game was uncovering why birds on this alien world were acting strangely. It was a flexible option that offered a reason for replaying the game. We designed the game to change the cause of the birds behavior randomly when you complete the game and start again, so you can continue the experience with fresh outcomes.

An additional benefit was tying the science and research directly to a very tangible benefit: helping these birds and the natural world. Eventually we even expanded this by letting the players care for their own bird as they work to save the ecosystem.

Science into Games

We found many ways to take scientific concepts and transform them into game mechanics. Challenging the player to observe AI controlled birds that behave differently based on their environment helped teach cause and effect relationships. We came up with several common mechanics such as sorting and matching games that took the idea of reading and understanding data and transported it into a simpler structure that provided a fun context for the work of drawing conclusions in a lab.

The Result

GameTheory has been working with Mindset Works on the SciSkills project for several years. It has been deeply motivating to see how the game shifts and changes over different iterations with a variety of student groups. The project secured SBIR NSF funding through Phase II and is currently modeling different forms of a commercial release.


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