SimScientists Food Web Game
By WestEd and Intelligent Automation
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Description: In the Food Web Game, players are immersed in a virtual world set in an African desert oasis. The player works collaboratively with a virtual peer as a research intern trying to protect the adorable fennec fox. They travel through the oasis in a jeep gathering clues (by taking pictures) about the interactions between organisms in the ecosystem. Then they use these clues to construct a food web as a model of the flow of matter and energy in the ecosystem (with help from a virtual scientist if needed). Upon completing the food web, the virtual scientist and peer engage the player in explaining the interactions and flow of energy and matter through the ecosystem, making predictions about potential threats to the survival of the fennec fox, and supporting their predictions with evidence and reasoning..
Skills and Ideas Taught: The SimScientists Food Web Game is designed as a formative assessment resource to provide further review, practice, and evidence of learning progress on the topics in the NGSS for middle school:
• Science and Engineering Practices (Developing and Using Models, Constructing Explanations, Engaging in Argument from Evidence)
• Disciplinary Core Ideas (Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems)
• Crosscutting Concepts (Systems and System Models, Matter and Energy: Flows, Cycles, and Conservation).
The game also provides opportunities for collaboration with the virtual scientist and peer (seeking advice, offeringadvice, and acting on advice). This game-as-assessment will be inserted into an existing ecosystem curriculum unit following an embedded simulation-based assessment that generates a Student Progress Report on the same core ideas and science practices.
Goal or Challenge: Players of the SimScientists Food Web Game are research interns trying to predict which organisms in a desert oasis ecosystem might be a threat to the survival of the fennec fox. To do this they must gather clues in the oasis by exploring and taking pictures of organisms eating (plants or other organisms!). These pictures serve as evidence of interactions between organisms. The clues are used to build a food web representing the energy and matter flow between organisms. Food web arrows must not only be drawn between the right organisms, but need to be in the right direction and include a supporting clue – it’s a puzzle they must complete. Collaboration between the player and virtual peer is supported with an in-game chat tool. The peer can offer advice and the player can seek assistance. Once the food web is complete, the scientist engages them in a reflective conversation to develop evidence-based explanations and arguments predicting which organizations could be a risk to the fox’s survival.
Primary Audience: Middle school students (grades 6 or 7) participating in a science unit on ecosystems.
Assessment Approach: During the game activities, the software records and evaluates player actions that, to the player, are depicted as completing the food web puzzle and earning points toward badges. Actions are recorded in the stealth assessment evidence model as diagnostic variables, which in turn provide values to update nodes in a Bayesian Estimation Network (Bayes Net). The Bayes Net returns an updated probability estimate (updated from the initial assessment done in class) that the player understands the targeted core ideas and can apply the science practices. Output of the Bayes Net provides teachers with a summary of student understanding, including areas of strength and weakness.
Game Engine: Unity
Operating System: Web, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10
Special Hardware: None