Immersed Games, a 43North portfolio company, has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant to expand “Tyto Online,” their educational video game that helps middle school students learn science and engineering skills. Immersed Games is inviting Western New York middle schools to sign up to participate in a NSF-sponsored study and receive free access to the game and the new early-release portion for their students.
In “Tyto Online,” students take part in activities like building ecosystems to learn about ecology, or breeding dragons to learn about heredity. The $746,721 NSF Small Business Innovation Phase II grant allows Immersed Games to finish development of a “Tyto Online” expansion called “Expeditions,” a unit focused on scientific problem-solving and engineering, while testing the game with participants in the region.
Immersed Games is offering an early-release of the new “Expeditions” to WNY teachers and their students in order to improve gameplay features and track effectiveness. Participating teachers are given free product access, professional development, and in-person support, while students gain insight into the process of video game development and the fascinating STEM careers involved. Interested schools should contact Immersed Games founder and CEO Lindsey Tropf at [email protected] for more information.
“We’re excited to be able to offer our groundbreaking video game to middle schools throughout Western New York,” said Tropf. “Showcasing our game to middle schoolers on a ‘early-release’ basis gives these students and their teachers a chance to directly impact game development while incorporating required Next Generation Science Standards. There is no better way to develop a video game for middle school students than to have the students themselves involved in the process.”
The Buffalo Academy of Science volunteered to participate in testing as the first school locally. Students asked questions about game development, tested game updates and gave Immersed Games feedback in a survey following a two-day classroom visit.
“This could not have come at a better time, as New York state is just starting to implement the Next Generation Science Standards and moving to problem-based learning,” said Douglas Borzynski, the STEM coordinator at the Buffalo Academy of Science. “‘Tyto Online’ is a wonderful method for a 21st-century learning environment. Students are instantly drawn into the world, and whether they are experienced gamers or not, Tyto quickly puts students in charge of their learning and discovering answers for authentic challenges. Working with my science teachers, we were easily able to adapt ‘Tyto Online’ into our fifth- and sixth-grade science classrooms, and I look forward to more from ‘Tyto Online’ to help supplement my STEM curriculum.”
The game calls for students to team up to explore a troubled ecosystem, using the scientific method by collecting data and generating graphs before creating hypotheses about what may be causing the problem.
“The aim of ‘Expeditions’ is for it to be used as a tool to improve students’ science and engineering practices, providing an authentic scientific problem-solving experience,” said Tropf. “Students who use problem-based learning like this are more likely to use science as a tool for problem-solving in their lives--something essential for 21st-century decisions we all need to make.”
In an initial pilot test, students who played the new ‘Expeditions’ module demonstrated a statistically significant 12 percent increase in science and engineering practices such as asking questions, analyzing and interpreting data, and defining problems for engineering.
For WNY schools who are not interested in participating in the ‘Expeditions’ research study, but who still want to use ‘Tyto Online’, there is another option. Any WNY school or district will be automatically accepted into the Innovator’s Program, where they receive a 50 percent discount on the product and an in-classroom visit from the developers. In exchange, participants are asked to share lesson plans and best practices they learn and develop while using the game. More information can be found at https://www.tytoonline.com/innovator.
In addition to opportunities for schools, individual Western New York families with children ages 9 to 14 years old will also have the chance to take part in the ‘Expeditions’ early-stage product testing process. Parents can sign up to participate at https://www.tytoonline.com/playtestingsignup.