MIT Unleashes New Online Game for Math and Science

| August 28, 2013 | 38 Comments
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Radix2

MIT Education Arcade

As the buzz around games and learning continues to grow, one particular subset — Massive Open Online (MMO) games — is catching the attention of educators as a particularly interesting way to encourage students to collaborate, problem solve, create and think for themselves within a game.

One of the most popular MMOs is World of Warcraft, in which many players log in to the online game at the same time and play while interacting with people all over the world. But, although teachers have found ways to use commercial games like World of Warcraft for educational purposes, it wasn’t originally designed with teachers in mind. Now, a group of researchers in MIT’s Education Arcade are trying to harness the power of MMO games to teach high school students to think like scientists and mathematicians. Their game, The Radix Endeavor, is designed to be an educational game, and capitalizes on the interactions students can have as a way to build their knowledge and skills.

Radix, as it’s known, is aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards for biology, focusing on topics like genetics, evolution, ecology and human body systems. In math, the game is aligned to the Common Core and has particular focuses on algebra, probability and statistics, as well as geometry. The researchers worked with Filament Games and are funded by the Gates Foundation for the three-year project.

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“These kinds of environments have the potential to capture learning that’s difficult to capture in face-to-face settings,” said Jody Clark-Midura, a research scientist at the MIT Education Arcade in a recent edWeb webinar. “These games can be used as assessments or tools for teachers to monitor progress over time.” The game captures every detail of how a student plays; things like how long it takes to complete a challenge, what order the student chooses to do things and what tools she uses. All of these data points can provide valuable insight to a teacher assessing whether a student understands a concept.

The key to making a game engaging to students is a strong narrative. “What’s important is to take that engaging narrative and that incentive system and put some stakes into the world to keep it feeling like an engaging environment and a place that students really want to be,” said Susannah Gordon-Messer, education content manager for MIT’s Education Arcade. In Radix, the player’s task is to help citizens of a fictional earth-like world gain knowledge about math and science, a privilege denied by the land’s rulers.

The game creators say there are benefits to using a game-based environment to teach certain math or science concepts, like being able to speed up time to see the outcome of a decision that would take months in a real-world experiment. For example, students might be asked where to plant a kelp bed to best protect an ecosystem. Within the game, time can be fast-forwarded by 90 days so students can instantly see if they placed the kelp correctly.

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“In a world like this you can build things and see them appear in the world,” Gordon-Messer said. “We wanted that same element of you having an impact on the world.” Radix specifically emphasizes some of the softer skills emphasized in the Common Core, like problem-solving and reasoning. The game tries to get students thinking like scientists or mathematicians and can work for a topic like geometry because students can build structures, similar to Minecraft, and biology.

“The questions are inquiry and exploratory based; it’s not designed to be the end of unit,” Gordon-Messer said, adding that the game can determine when to provide interventions and help correct misconceptions.

One way the MIT researchers imagine Radix could help is as homework assignment. “There’s a little bit of a stigma that once you are in an MMO world that you can never leave them,” Gordon-Messer said. She and her colleagues don’t expect this game to be a substitute for class instruction, and imagine it as a helpful supplement. Teachers can follow students’ progress using the teacher dashboard. “It can be a nice barometer of where your students are and what could be changed in the class that day,” she said.

MIT’s Education Arcade is releasing The Radix Endeavor in beta on September 4. At that point teachers can sign up and get familiar with the game, its tools, the standards it addresses and various supplemental materials. The actual content will be released in two batches, one in October and a second around the holidays. In October, teachers will be able to sign up their classes and begin using the game. The MIT researchers are eager to get feedback about how the game is received, whether it actually provides the kind of formative assessment they hope it will and what they could change.

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  • Yeshe Thubten

    Oooh, will it just be for schools? I’m a homeschooler and this would be great…

    • Katrina Schwartz

      Yeshe — You should contact the folks at MIT’s Education Arcade and ask them if it’s available for home schooling parents. Since it’s being released in beta I suspect they might want as many participants as they can get.

      • Yeshe Thubten

        Fantastic!

      • MIT Education Arcade

        Homeschoolers are certainly welcome to play. In the home schooling model, students will enroll themselves in the game. If you want to make sure that you get all of the latest information regarding the game, how to enroll etc, be sure to subscribe to the Radix Updates at http://bit.ly/18fFbSk

        • Carolyn Fox

          At the moment, the site is aimed at formalized classroom settings, teacher-directed learning, and isn’t welcoming to un/homeschoolers. It’s all about the class, managing the class, and assigning the work to the class. It’s also heavily US-based and isn’t welcoming to a global audience. This type of thinking is myopic.

          • http://www.jimmccusker.com Jim McCusker

            Well, then send suggestions to MIT. It’s not like MIT is a myopic institution.

    • Carolyn Fox

      I signed up for it and then e-mailed them about how it is aimed at formalized classroom settings, teacher-directed learning, and wasn’t welcoming to un/homeschoolers. We’ll see if they make any changes.

  • http://tellingthestory.org Ed Jones

    Could some students do this self-driven? If so, would it be possible to assign a competency-based credit value to it? Or, about how much time would a student invest in it?

    • MIT Education Arcade

      Yes, the game is designed so that students can play the game independently or under the supervision/guidance of a teacher making direct connections to classroom content. Either way is possible. If as a teacher you want to be able to monitor students’ progress in the game, then you would also want to enroll in game and then create accounts for your students so that you can use the teacher dashboard. Through the dashboard you can manage your student accounts and class lists as well as track student progress throughout the game. Each quest line is tied to a specific content standard.

      Regarding how long it takes to play: It’s almost impossible to estimate how long it will take a student to play a certain quest line because it really depends how much exploring they do, how long it takes them to get through a task and also, the quest lines vary dramatically between 2-3 quests per line up to 8 quests per line. Sometimes it might take an 45-60 min to get through a quest line, sometimes it might take more like 2-3 hours or even longer if players are given the flexibility to go exploring and try out new things. If you have specific questions about how to use this in your specific setting to meet your instructional objective, please contact radix-info [at] mit [dot] edu.

      • http://tellingthestory.org Ed Jones

        Thank you.

        Ohio law now allows huge student flexibility in what, how, and where they learn.

        What we’re trying to do is “badge” various innovative paths for use by students. That is, create a badge that equates to a quarter, half, or full credit toward Ohio graduation requirements.

        Thus, while the goal is to replace seat time with competency and achievement,… time really remains the best estimate for the value of a given badge challenge.

        This sounds like an absolutely perfect opportunity to introduce and explore how to map non-trivial games to HS credit.

        • MIT Education Arcade

          That is very interesting, Ed. Just to be clear, The Radix Endeavor is intended to support not replace high school STEM instruction. While the game can indeed be played independently by students in an anywhere, anytime model, we are examining how the game can be used to support teachers by providing a virtual environment in which students can experiment with key concepts. Their self-paced exploration and play often sets the context for or reinforces instruction by the teacher.

          That said, we would love you to keep us in the loop with what you are doing in Ohio.

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  • Alex

    MMO stands for “massively multiplayer online”, not masive open online

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  • FarmerMom

    It would be awesome if it would be available to homeschooled children.

    • MIT Education Arcade

      It is indeed available to homeschoolers who would enroll themselves in the game. To receive an announcement re: when the game will be available for homeschoolers, subscribe to the Radix
      Updates at http://bit.ly/18fFbSk

  • shirley

    Do you have a mathematical concept outline that might show educators the connecting topics so teachers may make clearer connections to algebraic concepts, geometry etc.? I am a curriculum writer for a large district and would like to see if this may be put in our documents as a technology enhancement. Would that be possible?

    • MIT Education Arcade

      We are in the midst of finalizing the games’ teacher support materials as we speak. These materials will include the game’s alignment to the Common Core Standards including which specific standards are addressed in each quest line. We will make an announcement regarding the availability of teacher supports via the Radix Updates newsletter. To make sure you are notified as soon as they are available, please subscribe to the RadixUpdates at http://bit.ly/18fFbSk

    • MIT Education Arcade

      We are in the process of finalizing the teacher support materials that will accompany the game. These materials will include information about how the game is aligned with the Common Core State Standards including which standards are addressed by each quest line. In addition, we will be developing lesson plans to accompany the game. We will make an announcement in our newsletter once these teacher tools are available. To make sure you are notified, subscribe to the Radix Updates at http://bit.ly/18fFbSk

  • Jennifer

    First: Radix sounds like an awesome game!

    Question: While I’m not a teacher I’ve heard that a lot of teachers are scrunched for time to get through curriculum. How will teachers be motivated to incorporate this or any other game into their lesson plans?

    (http://imaginaryprofits.blogspot.com/)

    • MIT Education Arcade

      Thanks for the kudos.

      Re: motivating teachers. There is always a tension between content, time and deeper learning. The Radix Endeavor hopes to provide teachers with a flexible, yet immersive, virtual environment where students can play anywhere, anytime. It could be during class time, or at home. This give teachers the opportunity to decide how best to use the game to support their instruction goals for their students.

      • Robert Clegg

        If the game is designed well, that means the content and context influence if not determine the outcome of the quests. And if this game is teaching 21st century skills or creating some other higher order learning (the reason for technology) then the teacher MUST be fluent in the game to provide support.

        How can a teacher effectively support the game if they are not an expert in it? Are you saying the quests are really nothing more than simple word problems that the teacher can cheat on or quickly diagnose? Or is this a complex game design integrating storylines and game mechanics that create this higher ordered learning? As you accomplish quests you gain tools, and items that require a scaffolding of a more complex interface (like photoshop, simple things you can do, but more complex operations require a growing and complex interface).

        If not implemented here, isn’t this the end game for immersive games? Then how will a teacher support this when they don’t have time to really understand all the complexity designed into the game for 21st century outcomes?

        Or what happens when other products are available that do the same thing? What if kids have access to Quest Atlantis? Now the teacher has to run through a whole new story, interface, mechanic …

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  • subarashii

    i think dashboard will be very useful for teachers to guide students learning. I was wondering how to do the same for physics and it gives me an idea that can function with a high probability.

  • DavidShellenberger

    Free the education market, and many more creative solutions for learning will blossom.

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  • http://www.chinavasion.com/china/wholesale/Cheap_Mobile_Phones/ Liza Jenifer

    I think there is dependably a pressure between substance, time and deeper taking in. The Radix Endeavor would like to furnish instructors with an adaptable, yet immersive, virtual environment where learners can play anyplace, at whatever time. It could be throughout class time, or at home. This give instructors the open door to choose how best to utilize the diversion to backing their direction objectives for their people. I would like to say Thanks for sharing such a nice collection.
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  • Mrs. S

    It is also 13 and over.
    Just an FYI