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Science Isn't a Game! Well, Why Not?

Philip Ferralli
Product Manager

For many of us, science has long been an interest or passion, and we worry when we see students shy away from the sciences as they work through the education system. The dilemma that we face in the classroom is how to engage and excite students about science while maintaining the intellectual integrity of our coursework. Students’ attention spans and interest levels have changed over the years, and we have adapted to accommodate new methods of teaching and learning. How many of you have found a place for gaming in your classroom?

Admittedly, I’m a gamer. As a child of the 80s, I started with the Atari 2600 and passed weekends at the arcade (spending more quarters than I care to remember). I’ve now moved on to creating living room rock bands, saving princesses, and thwarting alien races bent on conquering the galaxy. I never imagined that I would find a compelling way to bring together my passion for biology and my love of gaming.

Having fun while learning seems to be a recipe for success in the classroom. I realize that not all games are created equal, and I want to highlight a couple of games that offer both student engagement and strong science content. I can promise these will be neither a science fiction romp like Halo nor as light on science as Dr. Mario—this is about real science in your classroom, through the medium of gaming.

Biology-related games

  • Foldit  (Click to play)
    Grade 9–College.
    This unique puzzle game teaches students about protein structure. Students fold and twist amino acid side chains and backbones in an attempt to create the most compact and structurally accurate protein. Every movement not only earns students points, but it also helps solve real science problems. Users’ problem-solving data are collected to help improve computer algorithms used for protein recognition in applications ranging from biofuels to disease pathways.

    For a more traditional hands-on approach to protein folding, try the Amino Acid Starter Kit® (item #211126) or VirtMac™ Protein Folding/Enzyme Structure Kit (item #219040) to reinforce students’ learning.
  • CellCraft  (Click to play)
    Grades 6–12.
    Students attempt to create a robust cell full of functioning organelles. Students learn about the role of glucose, ATP, organelles, and various enzymes as they work to help scientists save their planet from an impending meteor strike.
  • Immune Attack  (Click to play)
    Grade 6–College.
    Is there any better way for students to learn about the immune system than to shrink to nano size and help a human body fight off swarms of infection? In Immune Attack, students act as an immune system helper nanobot as they explore the body’s immune system and retrain it to fight off waves of various infections.
  • EteRNA  (Click to play)
    Grade 9–College.
    Your students learn from cutting-edge work with RNA folding. To add a competitive edge, students climb a weekly leader board by successfully matching base-pairs and creating stable structures like RNA hairpins, all while learning more about RNA structure. As with Foldit, the work that students do during the game is collected to aid scientific understanding of RNA folding.

Although these games may not win any awards in hard-core gaming circles, each has something to offer your students. If the games do not fit neatly into your classroom logistics, consider adding them as homework assignments to get your class asking questions about your next lesson. Even though science is not a game, students may benefit from fun along the way.

If you have additional games that you like to use in your classroom, please feel free to share them with us on our Facebook page.