Think-and play-like a scientist

Think-and play-like a scientist

If you want to sharpen your decision-making ability, argumentation skills and learn about science—all while playing a video game—then Reason Racer is for you. Reason Racer (reasonracer.com) is an online, multiplayer competitive game that engages middle school students in understanding scientific argumentation, the kind of higher- level thinking that is key to scientific literacy, according to Jan Bulgren, who developed the Evidence Games project with Marilyn Ault, James D. Ellis, Bruce Frey and Jana Craig-Hare, Center for Research on Learning researchers.

“Scientific argumentation means using evidence and reasoning to evaluate and make judgments about a claim,” said Bulgren. “The game helps students practice the process of identifying and evaluating claim statements—or thinking like scientists.”

This is a critical skill that students must have to compete in the world economy, Bulgren said, and one that many young Americans lack. As a result, national policy and federal granting agencies have responded by making research on such skills a priority. The National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science and Engineering states that science students must be able to engage in argumentation based on evidence, and the need for argumentation also appears in the goals of Common Core State Standards.

Middle school science literacy standards have changed from students memorizing facts to requiring analysis, evaluation and the synthesis of information—including argumentation. But until recently, this did not include teaching students how to craft an argument.

Reason Racer is unique in that it uses a fast-paced rally race game approach to give students the chance to practice critical thinking and scientific argumentation at pit stops along the course based on 40 di erent subjects ranging from teleportation to glue made from worms for broken bones. “The game is designed to engage students through competition, autonomy, decision-making, feedback and collaboration,” said Bulgren.

Researchers collaborated with students and teachers from Argentine Middle School in Kansas City, Kan., to develop the game. Ultimately, 14 science teachers and more than 1400 students in middle schools in Northeast Kansas participated in either the treatment or comparison group during an eight-week unit on science.

“The project provided evidence supporting the use of Reason Racer during middle school science instruction,” said Bulgren. “Students who played the game improved in every aspect of argumentation skill and judgment and were more confident and motivated to make judgments about science claims.”