Theses Doctoral

Learning the Rules of the Game: The Nature of Game and Classroom Supports When Using a Concept-Integrated Digital Physics Game in the Middle School Science Classroom

Stewart Jr., Phillip

Games in science education is emerging as a popular topic of scholarly inquiry. The National Research Council recently published a report detailing a research agenda for games and science education entitled Learning Science Through Computer Games and Simulations (2011). The report recommends moving beyond typical proof-of-concept studies into more exploratory and theoretically-based work to determine how best to integrate games into K-12 classrooms for learning , as well as how scaffolds from within the game and from outside the game (from peers and teachers) support the learning of applicable science. This study uses a mixed-methods, quasi-experimental design with an 8th grade class at an independent school in southern Connecticut to answer the following questions: 1. What is the nature of the supports for science content learning provided by the game, the peer, and the teacher, when the game is used in a classroom setting? 2. How do the learning gains in the peer support condition compare to the solo play condition, both qualitatively and quantitatively? The concept-integrated physics game SURGE (Scaffolding Understanding through Redesigning Games for Education) was selected for this study, as it was developed with an ear towards specific learning theories and prior work on student understandings of impulse, force, and vectors. Stimulated recall interviews and video observations served as the primary sources and major patterns emerged through the triangulation of data sources and qualitative analysis in the software QSR NVivo 9. The first pattern which emerged indicated that scaffolding from within the game and outside the game requires a pause in game action to be effective, unless that scaffolding is directly useful to the player in the moment of action. The second major pattern indicated that both amount and type of prior gaming experience has somewhat complex effects on both the uses of supports and learning outcomes. In general, a high correlation was found between students who were more successful navigating supports from the game, the teacher, and the peer and higher gain scores from pre- to posttest. However, students with a lot of prior game experience that found the game to be easy without much assistance did not do as well from pre- to posttest as they did not need as much assistance from the game to do well and therefore missed out on important physics connections to impulse, force, and vectors. However, those students with little prior game experience did not find game scaffolds as useful and did not do as well from pre- to posttest without significant teacher and peer support to bolster or supplant the game's intended scaffolding. Implications for educators, educational game designers, and games in science education researchers are presented. It is argued that teachers must find ways to extract those scaffolds from the game which are easy to miss or require failure to activate so that all students, even those who find the game easy, are exposed to the intended learning in the game. Ideally, game designers are encouraged to find new ways to present scaffolds such that players of any ability can benefit from the connections from the game to physics.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Science Education
Thesis Advisors
Rivet, Ann
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 1, 2013