- The U.S. Department of Education recently awarded an $8 million grant over five years to expand a science video game, Mission HydroSci, into 60 middle school classrooms across the country starting in 2024. Designed to excite students about science curriculum, the game takes about six to eight class periods to complete.
- The game was developed by James Laffey, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri’s College of Education and Human Development. The grant will help Laffey work with the Missouri Research and Education Network and the university’s eMints National Center to provide professional development for teachers to implement Mission HydroSci in their classrooms.
- From his research of Mission HyrdroSci’s initial use in classrooms, Laffey said he found the game helped to engage students who struggled to pay attention in class. Plus, Laffey said some students even stepped up as leaders to help their classmates use the game.
The hope is that Mission HydroSci will not only benefit schools by engaging more students in science curriculum, but will also demonstrate that gaming can be used to teach various subjects across K-12, Laffey said.
“Instead of 10 years from now, we have MissionHydroSci as a game that kids are playing in schools, maybe there are 50 games across all the curriculum,” Laffey said. “It’s not that they play games all the time, but that the teachers have a repertoire that includes games that can help engage those kids that typically aren’t engaged.”
It’s not uncommon to find video games implemented in middle school classrooms now, but those games are typically just used as brief introductions to class lessons, Laffey said. Mission HydroSci is different because it aims to teach concepts and give students feedback as they practice over a longer period of time, he said.
With Mission HydroSci, players get the virtual opportunity to learn about water system topics such as water flow, atmospheric water, groundwater, and water contamination. Students can then use that knowledge and apply scientific arguments to solve problems as they complete missions.
This is the second grant the Ed Department has awarded to Laffey and his team for Mission HyrdroSci. The first grant, for $4.5 million in 2014, funded development and testing.
When schools were shut during COVID-19, teachers dealt with a lack of student engagement during online instruction, said Michael Young, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education who has expertise in cognition, instruction and learning technology.
Young said he’s noticed a trend that schools are encouraging more student play to better engage them during this increasingly technological era.
In Young’s research, he’s found an educational game’s narrative matters more than its length of playing time.
It’s important to make sure the goals of gaming in education aren’t like “chocolate-covered broccoli,” Young said. For example, a game that requires students to add or subtract to fire a missile at a meteor can build math fluency, he said. But if the game deeply engages a child, there’s potential they will also become excited about a related school subject, like chemistry, Young said.