29/06/2016

4 Ways To Make Learning Science Fun

“Games are good for my kids *raised eyebrow*… Hmmm...”

If that sounds like the inner monologue you have when someone tells you games are good for learning, I can’t really blame you. But what seems like an absurd statement is, in fact, true. Gamifying the learning experience is how we’ve been making it fun for our students, keeping them engaged.

We encourage our kids to play, on all levels. That positive learning can come from video games is nothing new, and academics the world over have established positive correlations. Case in point: those between video games and learning and literacy, according to James Gee, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. A growing number of research (for example, this one, this one, and this one) point in the direction that, yes, used correctly, video games have the potential to inspire learning.

The fact that you are reading this probably means you are a passionate parent, or educator who cares about how your kids are being educated. So how does the power of play benefit the learning process so much? We keep these points in mind while making our educational game, ChemCaper. And they’re also techniques we use in our schools to capture our students’ attention.

 

1. Engage the senses

What makes live cookings such a memorable experience? Simple: several of your senses are being engaged to a high level. The aroma of the food, sizzling in the air, the steam and flames dancing before you…

Learning is no different! Imagine learning to ride a bike. Most of us would fare better learning while actually riding a bike, rather than reading a manual on how to ride one, wouldn’t we? If you’ve ever trained a junior colleague, you’ve also experienced that they should be “learning on the job”, experiencing what you do; not reading about it.

In our classes, we emphasize engaging the kinaesthetic, visual, and auditory senses. And in games, you’re looking at colourful characters and environments, captivating sound effects and music, and you’re in control of a part of that world. Games reach out to learners’ preferred senses, in their zone, rather than relying on verbal statements alone. We’ve experienced that students are interested to learn science when they discover and observe the wonders of science in action. Who would stare at a textbook given the chance to perform cool experiments that form colourful crystals or go BOOM? Not many.

As an educator, once you’ve captivated their senses, your students will want to find out “why”. KerbalEdu is one such game, which is basically a rocket science simulator for kids to tinker with. Grooming curious minds is the most effective way of teaching science!

 

2. Storytime

Why do Role-Playing Games (RPGs) capture the hearts of so many players? They have a rich story which draws players in to care about those fictional worlds.

If you’ve ever had a teacher who told you stories in class, you probably still remember some of those stories to this day. It’s no fluke, it’s a deliberate choice to tell students stories of scientists, past students, and self. It gives students a way to relate their studies to something grounded in the real world, and also recall facts more easily (especially if the story is a funny one).

Students appreciate the value of science more when told about real life applications. We share the new frontiers of science with them, and get them to appreciate how far we’ve come. How much collective knowledge and effort went into bringing us from the Stone Age to an age of plastics, polymers, and even graphene?

Of course, not every bit of science is that fascinating. Therefore as educators we need to look at other ways of making Chemistry fun, such as creating a Chemistry game for coursework, much like what we’ve done with ChemCaper! What better way to remember a story than when it’s a good one and you’re having fun.

 

3. Analogy Pedagogy

For abstract subjects like Chemistry, it’s hard for students to relate to things they can’t see, such as the difference between mixtures and compounds. But say I told you mixtures and compounds are like salads and donuts. Maybe you’d understand it a little better? Here goes!

Salads (Mixtures)Donuts (Compounds)
No cooking (heat) required.Requires baking (heat required).
Ratio of components is flexible. (Want 5 different veggies and some eggs in your salad? Sure!)Ratio of components is fixed. (You can’t make a donut using 10 eggs and a drop of dough!)
Separating its components is fairly simple.Separating its components is difficult, if not impossible. (Could you remove the egg out of a batter?)
Components retain their individual flavours (retain chemical properties).Components take on new flavours (new chemical properties).

See? Games can bridge the abstract to reality through methods like basing characters off of those concepts. In ChemCaper, we do the very same by basing traits of the 5 races off the types of elements in the Periodic Table, and characterising the Petticles just like the molecules they represent in reality.

Again, students find it easier to understand science when abstract concepts are explained through familiar, real life things. Catalysts can be likened to matchmakers who speed up the “bonding process” without being involved in the relationship; and chemical bonds can be likened to different types of interpersonal relationships. It’s all about relating the known to the unknown.

 

4. Experimentation Expectation

There are sometimes those funny experiments we all remember. One of the experiments we conduct when teaching acids and bases is a quest to find fruits, vegetables, and flowers to use as natural indicators, and figure out which one works best. Purple cabbages are one such example, as their juice responds with distinct colours across the pH spectrum.

Pretty cool, huh?

What we didn’t expect was that when other students saw their peers and seniors bringing in fruits, vegetables, and flowers en masse, they got excited too. Our students also remember esterification experiments as “stinking up the school”, and look forward to “our turn to stink up the school”. It’s once again about engaging the senses with vivid colours and... hopefully something better smelling than ester components.

During play, students engage in something called tangential learning, and their curiosity moves them to find out more. Experiments are that “play time” to look forward to, and perhaps we’d be better off teaching the sciences with more focus on hands-on projects where students tinker and create (just like in edugames like MinecraftEdu), learning not only topics, but the interlinking of topics. Thoughts?

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Making the sciences fun is a challenging task, but it’s one we think is worth the struggle! We’re always looking for new ways to pique our students’ interests and simplify the mind-bogglers of science for them to do great with. What are learning solutions you’ve used to make science fun for your kids? We’d love to hear them!

Thank you all for reading. If you’d like be part of our journey in Reinventing Education for kids and adults alike, download ChemCaper right here. And if you’d like to keep up to date with us, check out our Facebook page, website, and blog.