N-Sector: Neuroscience Mystery Game

Period of Performance: 09/01/2012 - 02/28/2014


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Notabook Publishing, Inc.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Principal Investigator


DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): This proposal describes development and evaluation of an innovative, web-based, educational, mystery video game, N Sector that will engage a wide diversity of high school students in and out of classrooms, increase their knowledge of neuroscience, and promote their interest in neuroscience as a career path. The game will consist of a multi-faceted mystery incorporating shorter mysteries in a sequence of episodes. Each episode will require that the player help one or more neuroscientists solve a compelling problem. Solutions to the problems and puzzles incorporated into each episode will require inquiry of a neuroscience library and evidence-based reasoning facilitated by a patent-pending note-linking system that promotes critical thinking. Solution of the game will require solving the mysteries in the final and all preceding episodes. The episodes will include situations that are interesting to youth and will involve the wide breadth of exciting work that defines modern neuroscience. This includes the new views of brain remodeling or neuroplasticity;how these changes relate to memory as revealed by brain imaging;the role of stem cells in neurogenesis;brain-machine interfaces by which cortical activity can control external events;the role of neuronal death and neurodegeneration;and traditional elements like synaptic function, action potentials, and neurotransmission. These are exciting topics with the potential to motivate youth. Phase I evaluation will be conducted in four, demographically diverse high schools and will be designed to test the hypothesis that a carefully crafted video mystery game can motivate all students to learn about neuroscience regardless of demographics;that it can succeed while requiring substantial reading and reasoning about topics with substantive content;and that it can significantly enhance the interest of players in one or more sub-disciplines of neuroscience. Additionally evidence will be sought as to cognitive and motivational mechanisms responsible for observed outcomes, e.g. emphasis on content mastery versus game performance. If this motivating but simultaneously educationally serious video game supports our hypothesis, wide deployment could have an impact on interest and understanding of neuroscience and, by extension of the approach, perhaps to science teaching in a broader context. Combining a motivating video game with serious, inquiry-based library searching of content and using the discovered evidence to determine which of alternative hypotheses are supported and which are ruled out is innovative, original and unique. N Sector will be sold to school districts and individual schools through a distributor, and to individuals through the Internet on a subscription basis with password-protected access. PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE: With its leadership position slipping, the United States of America is facing an educational crisis that demands serious consideration of innovative approaches able to engage and motivate a wide diversity of youth to learn and think critically. N Sector directly addresses this need by creating an innovative, web- based, educational video game that will appeal to the digital native generation, teach the astonishing ways that neuroscientists are uncovering how our brains work, and lead players to become excited about neuroscience and interested in the field. If anticipated outcomes are realized, the approach could be extended to other fields of science and teaching.)