Thursday, June 13, 2013

Glasslab's SimCityEDU for Formative Assessment

GlassLab is working with commercial game companies, assessment experts, and those versed in digital classrooms to build SimCityEDU, a downloadable game designed for sixth graders. Scheduled for release in the fall of 2013, it builds on SimCity’s city management theme, but provides specific challenges to players in the subject of STEM.

SimCityEDU grew out of research conducted by the MacArthur foundation on how gaming can mirror formative assessments [PDF] – measuring understanding regularly along the learning path, rather than occasionally or at the end of a unit, as is most common. Their research found that games gather data about the player as he or she makes choices within the game, affecting the outcome. In games, players “level-up,” moving on to higher levels when they’ve mastered the necessary skills; similarly teachers scaffold lessons to deepen understanding as a student grasps the easier concepts.

SimCityEDU, with funding by the Gates and Macarthur foundations, will now provide assessments that are aligned with Common Core State Standards. The EDU version uses the same code as the commercial game, but with the addition of using students’ choices during challenges as a method of assessment. GlassLab is still working to develop all the challenges based on focus-group feedback on student interests, but the one challenge they know they’ll include focuses on the environment, based on positive feedback from the focus groups.

Students will be asked to conduct interviews and look at research to determine what kind of power plant to build in the town. As they play, taking photo documentation, interpreting the information they’ve gathered, drawing conclusions, graphing the data and finally making a decision, the game assesses each choice. Teachers will have a tool to see how each child’s play matches up against Common Core standards.

And game developers hope that the incremental data will help teachers know when to step in and offer more help. For example, if an interview contradicts scientific evidence, the student will have to discern bias, figure out how to weight the various pieces of evidence differently, and back up conclusions with data and text.

SimCityEDU will not go to market until third-party assessor, SRI International, has validated by testing students who’ve played the game using a completely different assessment tool to ensure the game works.

GlassLab plans to offer the downloadable game at little to no cost for schools and teachers.

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