With a new $3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the MIT Education Arcade is about to design, build, and research a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) to help high school students learn math and biology.

In contrast to the way that Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) are currently taught in secondary schools – which often results in students becoming disengaged and disinterested in the subjects at an early age – educational games like the one to be developed give students the chance to explore STEM topics in a way that deepens their knowledge while also developing 21st-century skills.

As director of the Education Arcade and the Scheller Teacher Education Program, Professor Eric Klopfer has been conducting research into such educational gaming tools for over ten years.  He is the creator of StarLogo TNG, a platform for helping kids create 3D simulations and games using a graphical programming language, as well as several mobile game platforms including location-based Augmented Reality games and ubiquitous casual games.

According to Klopfer, the game to be developed under this grant will be designed as a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG), a genre of online games in which many players’ avatars can interact and cooperate or compete directly in the same virtual world. “This genre of games is uniquely suited to teaching the nature of science inquiry,” he says, “because they provide collaborative, self-directed learning situations. Players take on the roles of scientists, engineers and mathematicians to explore and explain a robust virtual world.”

The game will be designed to align with the Common Core standards in mathematics and Next Generation Science Standards for high school students and will use innovative task-based assessment strategies embedded into the game, which provide unique opportunities for players to display mastery of the relevant topics and skills. This task-based assessment strategy will also provide teachers with targeted data that allows them to track the students’ progress and provide valuable just-in-time feedback.

Klopfer’s team will be working closely with Filament Games, a Wisconsin-based games production studio as the project’s primary software developers. A small number of Boston-area teachers and students will take part in a pilot phase of the project in the spring of 2012 using a prototype of the game.  By the end of the three-year project, the game is expected to have 10,000 users nationwide.

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