Designing game-based science assessment for elementary classrooms

As digital game-based assessments become increasingly popular, balancing the need for educational content, rigorous assessment, and entertainment is critical. Computer games are built to be engaging, and interweaving them with classroom assessment can offer possibilities for reducing students’ performance anxiety while still providing evidence-based insights into their learning.

Previous attempts to integrate games and assessment have included trying to add elements of games to learning tasks (gamification), and trying to add educational assessments to commercially-produced video games. ‘Edutainment’ approaches are criticized for being ‘digital worksheets’ – in which students are, for instance, basically completing textbook math problems on a computer – and trying to add assessment to existing games may not align or provide evidence to address curricular outcomes.

Working with weather

Working with Mindfuel, a foundation dedicated to promoting STEM learning, Dr. Man-Wai Chu collaborated with game designers to build Storm Chasers: Raging Skies. The game is built to align with 8 specific learner outcomes from the Alberta Grade 5 Science program of study. Through role-playing, students enter in the world of storm chasers, who must use and manage various resources to collect information about different storms.

To address the challenges associated with previous designs, learning tasks were purposefully integrated in the game’s design to measure knowledge and skill-based outcomes. This helps to provide both targeted educational content and entertainment, and ensure the game gathers sufficient evidence to evaluate each outcome.

The game provides formative feedback to students as they play, and tracks important information that the teacher can use to assess students’ understanding and processes. Rather than tracking only final answers, the game can also capture evidence of science inquiry skills by analyzing the process students use to complete the tasks.

Screen captures of the wind scale that students use to record the wind speed of the storm and the formative feedback report students receive after a task. © 2016 by MindFuel™

Screen captures of the wind scale that students use to record the wind speed of the storm and the formative feedback report students receive after a task. © 2016 by MindFuel™

The mechanics of the game help students work on tasks that are suited to their level, based on how well they have done on previous storm tasks. For example, if a student does not perform well on the initial tasks, they will not have the available in-game money to purchase fuel to travel to the higher difficulty storm sites located further away. The students are therefore incentivized to travel to these more difficult locations to earn more in-game money during those tasks. These processes also help to customize the experience the student receives to match their performance.

Evidence-centered games

By designing games with educational content and rigorous assessment practices in mind, teachers are able to provide engaging and purposeful alternatives for gathering evidence of student learning. Raging Skies can be accessed by numerous students in classrooms throughout Alberta. This provides a level of consistency and standardization to the assessment, in addition to the focus on formative learning, Raging Skies may help reduce test related anxieties when compared to other testing situations.

The game is currently publicly available, with updates being made as the team gather data to inform later versions. The developers are working to ensure the game reflects the open-ended nature of science inquiry, and continues to avoid being a ‘high-tech worksheet.’ The team is focused on ensuring the design reflects the principles of fair and authentic assessment, and measures the outcomes described in the program of studies as a viable alternative to other assessment methods.

Check out Storm Chasers: Raging Skies on the MindFuel website

See more from Dr. Man-Wai Chu on her profile

Connected Citations

Chu, M.-W., & Chiang, A. (in-press). Raging skies: Development of a digital game-based science assessment using evidence-centered game design. Alberta Journal of Science Education.