Crash-Landing on Mars Results in Fun and Learning in STEM
April 2, 2015: In an effort to advance student learning, promote careers, and reduce drop-out rates across the country, StandardsWork has partnered with Lockheed Martin's Mission Systems & Training Group to develop a video game that is revolutionizing the way 9th and 10th graders are learning STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Funded by the U.S. Department of Defense's Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Lab, this immersive educational tool – known as “The MARS GAME” – is creating an 'aha' moment for students, where they can begin to draw connections between what they're taught in school and how it can be applied to what they want to do and who they want to be once they graduate.
The MARS GAME transports students to the inhospitable planet Mars with a crash-landing. In order to stay alive and save their peers, players must work through a series of programming and mathematical problem-solving challenges. The mathematical learning objectives are derived from the Common Core State Mathematics Standards.
Led by Dr. Barbara Freeman, StandardsWork's team of learning scientists and instructional subject-matter experts used a rigorous evaluation methodology to ensure The MARS GAME content is as fun as it is effective in teaching STEM.
In addition to the quality of its content, the success of the game is also dependent upon the user experience. Lockheed Martin assembled an interdisciplinary team of engineers, programmers, game designers, graphic artists, audio engineers, and cognitive psychologists to ensure the game had the look and feel of a video game that students would actually want to play.
StandardsWork has conducted two studies on The MARS GAME prototype: a usability study, which was reported in EdTechDigest, and a randomized control trial on learning and engagement.
Not only did students who played The MARS GAME significantly outperform those students who used a supplemental web-based instruction, students using The MARS GAME repeatedly told us that they wanted to keep playing the game even after the game ended. Many students didn't even realize they were learning while they played. Among other interesting findings, boys and girls learned equally.
We presented these findings and demonstrated The MARS GAME at the US Ignite Conference hosted by NSF and George Washington University in March. A portion of the demo featuring members of our Lockheed Martin team is now on YouTube.
For the first time, The MARS GAME is featured in a student competition hosted at NASA's Goddard Space Center. 6-8th grade participants (members of the Patriots Technology Center STEM afterschool program) presented storyboards based on their research of Mars and gave oral reports, then played The MARS GAME. The overall winning team of three students was awarded a one week all expenses paid trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, AL this summer.