Jesse Schell sees the future of education as a place where classrooms are turned into digital playgrounds. Computers—namely tablets—bring once dry subjects like math and science to life both visually and physically.
“Affordable, connected, digital tablets are poised to make the biggest change to education that we’ve seen in a century,” says Schell. “A shift to these tablets opens a window to transform the traditional textbook into an entire digital library that includes not just text, but powerful videos, interactive games and simulations, and multiplayer connections between students and teachers.”
Schell Games and its game-making factory in Station Square with 95 developers cobbles a wide array of world-class video games, theme park attractions and museum exhibits. Educational games is a growing sweet spot, says Jake Witherell, COO.
“It might sound hokey, but we want to make games that change the world,” he says.
Forty percent of elementary school teachers in the U.S. use computers in the classroom and Internet access in schools across the country is on the rise. The percentage of K-12 classrooms with access has increased from 51% in 1998 to 98% in 2012. Programs and hands-on models teach students far more effectively, educators say, especially when it comes to STEAM—science technology, engineering, arts and math.
Three new educational offerings for students are in various phases of release, all on the cutting edge of digital learning. Happy Atoms (for fourth graders and up), in development, pairs colorful atom models with an interactive digital app.
Students build atoms by pairing nucleus spheres with magnetized silicon arms that represent electrons. For example, students create water molecules by connecting two hydrogen molecules and one water molecule together. The atoms are then photographed with a tablet, which checks their work and teaches even more about the molecular chemistry of the atoms they’re creating.
“Atoms are the building blocks of the universe,” notes Schell. “It’s much more deeply engaging to teach students through learning tools that combine a physical model with an app that allows students to see the difference between the elements and feel the forces that bond them together.”
Another Schell game called Water Bears teaches spatial reasoning, systems thinking and color-mixing for middle schoolers. The 3D puzzle for tablets challenges students to build a water pipeline using colored pipes in a grid-based environment.
Water Bears launched this week through the GlassLab Games platform, a company that partners with some of the leading game developers in the world to develop effective educational games and is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A stand-alone version is also available on the App Store.
Another game released in early 2015 focuses on English skills. The World of Lexica is an action-packed game for young teens that introduces them to an imaginative, book-themed world where literary characters emerge and take players on adventures. The game fosters a passion for reading.
“Well-crafted educational games will be able to capture and engage the minds of students in new ways that will make them an incredibly powerful tool for the teachers of the 21st century,” says Schell.
This story is underwritten by the Grable Foundation as part of the Remake Learning Initiative, in partnership with WQED, WESA andPittsburgh Magazine. See all the Remake Learning stories in NEXTpittsburgh.