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Computer game developed by NMSU increases students' scientific understanding

An award-winning computer game created in the New Mexico State University Learning Games Lab is giving students a fresh approach to learning scientific processes.



Middle school students play "Science Pirates: The Curse of Brownbeard," a science-based computer game created to help students understand science vocabulary and experiment design. (Courtesy photo)

"Science Pirates: The Curse of Brownbeard" is a science-based computer game aimed toward fourth through eighth-graders. It was created to help students understand science vocabulary and experiment design, as well as the science behind hand-washing and food safety recommendations.

Through music, games and a virtual experiment, players learn about hypothesis formation, experiment design, variable isolation and dependent and independent variables. The game takes about two hours to play.

"Games are an engaging and creative way to put users in an environment where they learn what they want to learn and then have an opportunity to apply it," said Barbara Chamberlin, extension instructional design specialist and associate professor.

Launched in early May, Science Pirates is free and available by download from the Web site http://sciencepirates.org. The game meets the national science education standards set by the National Academy of Science and can be used in the classroom, after-school programs and at home.

Professional game designers in NMSU's Learning Games Lab developed the game, which underwent four years of extensive testing. Middle school students gave feedback and helped create characters, titles and other elements. Science teachers also were consulted and helped identify learning goals.

"This game has been tested extensively throughout its development. It really appeals to the age group, because they were consulted so heavily before it came out," Chamberlin said.

The game recently received Association for Communications Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Life and Human Sciences (ACE) Gold Awards in three categories: best graphic design for multimedia, best interactive media programming and best innovative use of communication technologies. Science Pirates also received a top platinum AVA award in the games category.

The Learning Games Lab is developing a second version of the game, designed to be a prequel to "The Curse of Brownbeard."