SBIR Phase I: Inquiry-Based, Ecology-Themed Game for Elementary School Students

Period of Performance: 01/01/2013 - 12/31/2013

$150K

Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Budding Biologist
1034 Marcy St.
Iowa City, IA 52240
Principal Investigator, Firm POC

Abstract

The innovation proposed is to develop a video game for elementary school teachers and students using inquiry-based learning to demonstrate interdependencies in ecological systems. High-quality science teaching tools are needed because the US is ranked 17th in science education among developed nations (PISA 2009), which may be in part due to lack of teacher training in science (Roehrig et al. 2011). The proposed video game will allow teachers, regardless of science background, to create customizable microhabitats (i.e., islands) with different geographical features. Players will be prompted to use observation and experimentation to determine the optimal combinations of organisms that will thrive in their virtual world. The game will encourage players to ask questions, experiment, analyze, and solve problems in an interactive virtual environment. The aim of this project is to enhance children's natural curiosity while teaching them scientific reasoning, and to develop in them analytical process and thinking skills necessary for solving multiple-variable real-world problems. The development of these skills will ultimately promote interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions. The broader/commercial impact is increasing student interest in STEM professions by filling a market niche that is currently empty: ecology-themed video games for elementary school students. In a technically competitive world, U.S. educational systems must aggressively focus on teaching our youngest to understand and use scientific thinking. Local teachers, children, and parents will work with our programmers to have significant input into the game design. It is crucial to consider the difficulties that elementary educators face when teaching science, since teachers will take the lead in presenting this game to their students in the classroom. Furthermore, the video game will offer a way for schools that may not have ready access to outdoor areas (e.g., urban schools who enroll a disproportionately large number of minority students underrepresented in STEM professions) to conduct hands-on experimentation and to design and test ecological experiments in a virtual environment. There are currently no video games on the market that teach elementary school students ecological concepts while training them to think like a scientist. This lack of commercial competition, paired with a need for additional science resources in schools, indicates a commercial market opportunity for this video game.