Research

We’ve been writing and speaking about Possible Worlds since 2009. The links below will connect you with a variety of reports, presentations, and working papers that describe the project, share insights into our development process, and present the results of our field tests and impact study.

Project Overviews and Theoretical Framework

This section includes papers and presentations that explain the theoretical foundations of Possible Worlds and our overall approach to the research and development process.

Digital games for analogical thinking and conceptual science learning in the middle grades (Culp, 2012)

This is a talk given at the 2012 Principal Investigator’s annual meeting at the Institute for Education Sciences. It places the Possible Worlds work in the context of CCT’s overall approach to research on technology and learning, reviews the theoretical framework guiding the project, and describes the program of research underway.

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Download the accompanying slides.PDF

Gaming reveals the invisible world of science to students (Culp, 2011)

This article introduces the core ideas behind Possible Worlds, with an emphasis on the cognitive-developmental aspects of early adolescents' thinking. It was posted at Ashoka's Changemakers blog. Ashoka's Changemakers community brings together a wide range of individuals and initiatives that are working toward lasting social change.

Read this article on Changemaker.

This section includes papers and presentations that describe how the instructional design and game design teams worked together to develop and refine the Possible Worlds digital games.

Using interactive metaphors and popular game designs for science education (Parris, Bachhuber, & Saulnier, 2012)

This paper reviews the goals and conceptual focus of RoboRiot, the Possible Worlds game that supports teaching and learning about heredity, randomness, and dominant and recessive traits. This paper was the basis for a workshop presented at the Games, Learning and Society conference.

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A development process focused on pedagogy-centered design (Brunner, 2009)

This paper presents a detailed discussion of the negotiations between the instructional designer, content expert, and game designers as they began to create The Ruby Realm. It places those negotiations in the context of the pedagogical practices the game was intended to complement and support.

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Negotiating representations of scientific phenomena during the development of games for learning (Brunner, 2009)

This report provides a description of the factors considered as the instructional design and game design teams worked together to begin to define the visual content for a digital game focused on photosynthesis.

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These working papers describe how we went about conducting formative research to inform the development of Possible Worlds games and classroom resources, and present the key insights gained from that work that informed the development team’s activities.

Formative research for game design (Bachhuber, 2012)

This working paper builds on another recent project at CCT, Portable Wordplay, to describe our approach to conducting formative research to inform game development.

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Using Students’ Naïve Theories to Design Games for Middle-Grades Science (Goldstein, Pasquale, & Culp, 2011)

This working paper describes the formative research that guided the development of RoboRiot, the game for the Possible Worlds module about heredity. It discusses both the curricular context and the developmental challenges that can make it difficult for middle-grade students to build a robust understanding of the random aspects of heredity, or of the implications of a gene being "dominant" or "recessive."

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Possible Worlds Year 2 Formative Research (Martin & Goldstein, 2010)

This report reviews the focus of, and findings from, formative research conducted in Fall 2009. This work focused on early versions of the games and materials for what would eventually become our photosynthesis module and the game, The Ruby Realm.

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Back to Sesame Street: Reviving developmentally-focused formative research (Culp, 2010)

This is a transcript of a talk that discusses the history, purpose, and goals of formative research, and its role in guiding the development of the Possible Worlds games.

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These reports and presentations describe study methods and present findings from field tests and an impact study.

Testing the Impact of a Pre-instructional Digital Game on Middle-Grade Students’ Understanding of Photosynthesis (Culp, Martin, Clements & Lewis Presser, 2014)

This study uses a blocked, cluster randomized controlled trial design to test the impact of a digital game, played as homework prior to instruction, and associated supplemental instructional activities, on middle grade students’ understanding of the process of photosynthesis. The role of the teacher as a potential moderator of the game’s impact on student outcomes was also investigated, using Classroom Assessment Scoring System-Secondary Edition (CLASS-S) observations as a measure of instructional quality.

This study is published in the journal Technology, Knowledge and Learning. DOI 10.1007/s10758-014-9233-5

Does gameplay prepare students to learn? Lessons from a field test (Goldstein, Martin, & Culp, 2013)

This descriptive report summarizes findings from a Spring 2012 field test of the Possible Worlds module that addresses heredity and randomness. This field test gave us new insight into the difficulties involved in mapping the structural analogies between game mechanics and key concepts during instruction.

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Visualizing photosynthesis: Lessons learned from a field trial of a digital game to support science learning (Martin, 2012)

This detailed report provided our first insight into whether and how teachers implemented the Possible Worlds module on photosynthesis. It also explores how each teachers' approach to implementation was influenced by their existing curricular priorities and instructional approaches.

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Three more reports, including summaries of field tests of the heat transfer and electricity modules, will be posted soon.