momentum in high schools and middle schools (Scalise et al., 2009), and games are being tested in a few schools and districts. In K-12 settings, science teachers may use a simulation or game to engage students’ interest at the beginning of a unit of instruction, build understanding of a particular topic in the unit, or as a form of assessment. Alternatively, a teacher, often in collaboration with researchers, may focus an extended unit of instruction on a simulation-based learning environment or game.
Although many different types of simulations and games have been tested in K-12 and undergraduate classrooms, only a few have been widely implemented. Some examples are the Taiga Park curriculum unit in Quest Atlantis, which has been used by thousands of students in elementary schools, after-school clubs, and science centers, and the simulation-based learning environments developed by Songer, Kelcey, and Gotwals (2009), which have been used by hundreds of students in the Detroit Public Schools. The developers of the River City game-based curriculum unit have investigated the process of widely implementing the unit, as well as its effectiveness for learning (see Box 3-1). To capture lessons learned from this experience and research, the committee asked lead developer Christopher Dede (2009c) to outline the opportunities and constraints that formal classroom settings offer for simulations and games.
Dede (2009c) identified five opportunities that classroom settings offer for using simulations and games. First, the teacher is a resource to support learning and can also provide valuable information to developers on student misconceptions inadvertently generated by a game or simulation. For example, a teacher observed that a student team using River City once spent substantial time repeatedly using the mosquito catcher (a virtual tool to help students assess the local prevalence of insects that serve as a vector for malaria), well beyond what was needed for statistical sampling. When she investigated, she found that the students believed they could reduce illness in the simulation by “catching” enough mosquitoes to block the disease. The teacher informed the developers, who used this feedback to modify the instructions for playing the game.
Second, classroom settings offer the opportunity to reach students who might otherwise view science as boring. The growing popularity of gaming outside school reduces teachers’ work to prepare students for using educational simulations and games and builds learners’ motivation for them. Some students who enjoy gaming for entertainment but shun educational games find that assigned gaming experiences in the classroom are unexpectedly fascinating, building their interest and self-efficacy in school (Clarke, 2006; Ketelhut, 2007).
Third, the responsibility of the teacher to grade students can present