This spring 6th-grade students at BFA Fairfax Middle School are participating in a unique research opportunity sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The NSF is a United States government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering.

“It is really fun to pilot something like this because your opinions are taken into account and your work is valued.”

The project, Playing with Data, is a three-year research and development study to investigate how to support middle school science teachers in using data from students’ digital game play for formative assessment and differentiated instruction. 

“It helps with your writing because you are using claims and evidence to make better arguments.”

BFA Fairfax was asked to participate in this example of leading research because of FWSU’s membership in the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools. The League connects and rallies the most forward-thinking leaders of the nation’s school districts. By working together on shared priorities – and partnering with leading entrepreneurs, researchers, and education leaders – League districts pioneer innovative learning opportunities that deliver to improved outcomes for students.  

“It makes sense because we get to work in groups to do educational activities like debating claims and use those skills in the video game. Then we use the game to do a better job with our writing and argumentation.”

6th-grade educator Lindy Carpenter volunteered to participate in the study with her students. The purpose of this study is to produce knowledge and materials that middle-school science teachers can use in the classroom and for their own professional development. The study is a collaboration between EDC’s Center for Children and Technology (EDC/CCT), a nonprofit research and development organization in New York City, and GlassLab, a nonprofit company that makes educational games. The work is being led by Dr. James Diamond.

“It is really exciting to play and makes me want to go learn more about space exploration and maybe go to Mars someday.”

The study is carried out in two ways. First, the students test out the new Mars Generation One educational video learning (commonly known as gamification) which focuses on science concepts. It is a blended learning experience that students access from their iPads, but it also includes collaborative work and direct instruction. In addition, Mars Generation One is a game designed to support the teaching and learning of argumentation, an important skill for all students today to know and understand. Students are working with Ms. Carpenter and a researcher to give direct feedback on Mars One. Students are discovering what works and finding glitches in the system that need to be addressed — they are researchers!  

“Piloting the Mars game helped me to understand about programming and creating video games.”

The second portion of the study focuses on how teachers use and understand data. In today’s classroom, teachers are inundated with data. Effectively using data to drive instruction and reach every student can be challenging. Mars One includes a teacher dashboard that provides real-time data reports about student gameplay that relates to argumentation practices. Ms. Carpenter is using the dashboard and the “educative curriculum” materials to help strengthen her data-driven decision-making practices as an educator. She is also providing feedback on how the dashboard helps or hinders her ability to analyze the data.  

This pilot was a great adventure for our students and for BFA as well!

Target 2 – Leadership FWSU students and staff lead innovative, personalized learning opportunities, both locally and globally.

Indicators of Success – Student voice has the power to impact the perceptions of others

Action Step – Ensure students take a leadership role in their learning using rich, authentic questions, problems they identify, and diverse resources to formulate solutions

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