3 Lessons From Video Games on Science Thinking In Museums

I just read this wired.com article - How Video Games Blind Us With Science - and found some great parallels to my own studies. The article describes how kids playing online games are unknowingly using the scientific process:

The researcher noticed that kids would collect information as they collectively tried to accomplish a task. For example, how do they beat a boss? Which spells work best? They would then organize these various pieces of data to create a set of rules or model for how that boss worked.
Often, the first model wouldn't work very well, so the group would argue about how to strengthen it. Some would offer up new data they'd collected, and suggest tweaks to the model. "They'd be sitting around arguing about what model was the best, which was most predictive," Steinkuehler recalls.

That's when it hit her: The kids were practicing science.
The researcher, Steinkuehler, concludes that these kids are using the scientific method (collecting information, generating hypotheses, testing and refining these hypotheses) in order to figure out the hidden rules of the video game world - very much the same way that scientists figure out the rules governing our own real world. She concludes that "Video games are becoming the new hotbed of scientific thinking for kids today."

I believe that the interactions and experiences described above should guide the ways that science museums approach and promote scientific thinking. I think there are 3 lessons that museum designers can take from the article and the findings.

1) Social Interactions - These kids are working together. They're using various chat programs and digital communication methods to solve problems, to have debates about there theories etc. How can museum spaces better foster these types of "scientific" discussions, conversations, and social interactions? Exhibits that use digital technologies to support group problem solving would be a great start. Maybe mobile phones could help children gather data to solve problems in a museum space.

2) Process over Content - I believe that the role of museums should be to encourage scientific thinking. By providing children with a method and framework to solving scientific problems, children will be better prepared to approach science later on in more formal settings such as schools. (See Preparation for Future Learning). Ultimately these types of experiences will have a greater impact on children than simply throwing facts and information at them. The key is to make sure that kids are able to take this new "scientific thinking" and transfer it to other experiences.

3) Play and Motivation - These video games are fun.The article suggests that the kids believe they're cheating, and not performing science. In any case, these games are fun because it is intrinsically rewarding (there are of course extrinsic motivators as well) to complete a task or to beat a boss. How can museums utilize these motivating factors to make museum experiences more fun and engaging, while highlighting the scientific thinking involved in the interactions?

I don't think museums should become video games, but perhaps there are some lessons to be learned about the fostering of scientific thinking.


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