Dr. Fran C. Blumberg, Graduate School of Education (GSE) Professor in the Division of Psychological and Educational Services, has received a grant from the Center for Curriculum Redesign (CCR) to investigate how pre-adolescent and early adolescent students access metacognition and problem-solving skills during educational game play. The mission of the non-profit CCR is to answer the question, “What should students learn for the 21st century?”, a question it seeks to answer by bringing together ideas like Dr. Blumberg’s from many sources. “It is truly exciting to have our faculty pursue so many creative ways to study how students learn,” said GSE Dean Virginia Roach. “Dr. Blumberg’s investigation and findings will help us continue to incorporate the most up-to-date information in our curriculum as we mentor and prepare teachers to the highest standards for today’s classrooms.”
The one-year study will examine the metacognitive skills and problem-solving abilities of up to 300 students in grades 4-8 while they negotiate a digital game emphasizing the basics of coding. A basic educational coding skills game was selected because: 1) there is an increasing emphasis on learning these skills in pre-college STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curricula; and 2) digital games are increasingly used within classrooms.
Pre-adolescents and early adolescents are the focus of the research due to documented declines in that age group’s academic achievement, despite their relative sophistication with respect to metacognition. Specifically, students will be asked to think aloud (verbally share their thoughts and experiences) while playing a free-access, internet-based coding game (Lightbot). Prior to beginning the game, students will be instructed in one of three ways: 1) to adopt a metacognitive (thinking about how they’re thinking) approach during play; 2) to assume a focus on enjoying the game; or 3) will not be given any instructional goal. Giving students these three parameters has been shown in previous studies to variably impact how children approach game play.
During the second phase of the study, students will be asked to characterize their learning and the game experience as a form of metacognitive debriefing, by sharing both what they remember about the game and what they learned from it. Think-aloud and post-game synopsis comments shared by students will be examined for linkages to game performance across grades and game goal instructions.
Study findings should help determine how post-game think-aloud exercises may be used, structured, and further refined to facilitate improving students’ metacognitive skills and problem-solving during educational game play, as well as how the results may potentially translate to other classroom activities. Looking forward, analysis of study data may also lead to development of new digital teaching tools and technology-based pedagogical strategies to improve overall delivery of instruction to pre-adolescents and early adolescents prone to declines in academic achievement.