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She Blinded Me with…Videogames

Constance Steinkuehler, a “game academic” at the University of Wisconsin (and holder of the sort of job title all of us covet), was running large-scale raids in a game called Lineage. Most of her guild members were teenage boys, and even though many of the “bosses” they were fighting were extremely tough, they had a high success rate. She discovered that a group of them were loading all of the combat data into a spreadsheet and making mathematical models predicting how to beat each boss.

Often, the first model wouldn’t work very well, so the group would argue about how to strengthen it. Some would offer up new data they’d collected, and suggest tweaks to the model. “They’d be sitting around arguing about what model was the best, which was most predictive,” Steinkuehler recalls.

That’s when it hit her: The kids were practicing science.

She noted that many of the kids involved in this data modeling were the same kids who zoned out in school science classes. This led her to conclude that videogames might be a valid method for teaching science.

She wrote a paper, “Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds”, about the phenomenon and argues that teaching science to kids “in their language” might help them muddle through problems in the real world as well.

It’s an interesting concept, although I think it’s a tad oversimplified: There’s more to science than just the raw scientific method. However, it might be an excellent way to induce kids to re-connect with science in the classroom. Then you hit ’em with the periodic tables.

Link (via Skepchick)

Posted in Computers & Internet, Science September 19th, 2008 by Chip
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