1. H Chad Lane
  2. http://hchadlane.net
  3. Associate Professor
  4. Fostering Interest in Science through Interactive Exploration of Astronomy What-If Simulations
  5. http://whimc.education.illinois.edu
  6. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  1. Neil Comins
  2. http://members.authorsguild.net/nfcomins/
  3. Professor
  4. Fostering Interest in Science through Interactive Exploration of Astronomy What-If Simulations
  5. http://whimc.education.illinois.edu
  6. University of Maine
  1. Jorge Perez-Gallego
  2. https://www.frostscience.org/team_member/dr-jorge-perez-gallego/
  3. Curator of Astronomy
  4. Fostering Interest in Science through Interactive Exploration of Astronomy What-If Simulations
  5. http://whimc.education.illinois.edu
  6. Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science
  1. Sherry Yi
  2. http://sherryyi.com
  3. Graduate Student
  4. Fostering Interest in Science through Interactive Exploration of Astronomy What-If Simulations
  5. http://whimc.education.illinois.edu
  6. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Facilitators’
Choice
Public Discussion
  • Icon for: H Chad Lane

    H Chad Lane

    Lead Presenter
    May 13, 2018 | 10:08 a.m.

    Thank you for checking out our video!  Whether you are diehard Minecraft player, science teacher, museum educator, camp coordinator, or just curious about how Earth could have feasibly been different had the universe formed differently, we are glad you are here! With funding from NSF's AISL (Advancing Informal Science Learning) program, we are nearing the end of the first year of a two-year exploratory project to investigate to what extent exploration of "what-if" questions are able to trigger interest in Astronomy and science. Co-PI Comins has written and presented extensively about such questions for over 20 years, and in this project we are giving middle school children the chance to explore those questions interactively. 

     

    We are interested in any ideas or feedback you may have, but particularly hopeful to find out new potential outlets for the work, thoughts on how to measure changes in interest as kids explore the worlds we have created, and any existing Minecraft tools that we might be able to incorporate. And of course, what is your favorite what-if question?

  • Icon for: Rebecca Teasdale

    Rebecca Teasdale

    Researcher
    May 14, 2018 | 10:34 a.m.

    I love how experiential the "what-if" worlds are in Minecraft! I was totally drawn in just watching the video, so I can imagine that actively exploring the worlds is even more engaging. Do you have data about differences in engagement/learning/interest comparing children who explore the Minecraft worlds and those who use more traditional approaches to consider "what-if" scenarios?

     
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    Sherry Yi
    H Chad Lane
  • Icon for: H Chad Lane

    H Chad Lane

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 10:40 a.m.

    Thanks Rebecca!  It is a great question and as you are well aware, there is a ton of research showing that active/interactive learning is more effective than passive alternatives. In our EXP we are not making this comparison directly simply because we need to pour our resources into the prototypes and camps, but it would be a good control group for sure (perhaps as a waitlist control so those kids could explore the virtual world too!).  The connection we are really excited about is how Minecraft world editing tools let kids not only ask the questions, but then build out their visions - when we piloted the idea two summers ago, they made some amazing places to explore.  thanks again!

     
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    Rebecca Teasdale
  • Icon for: Scot Osterweil

    Scot Osterweil

    Facilitator
    May 14, 2018 | 03:59 p.m.

    Nice work. I found the video engaging. I would love to hear more about two things: 

    1. More detail about how players interact with the what-if worlds, how you prompt their questions, how you capture their questions when they have them, and what analysis tools players employ in evaluating these worlds.

    2. What evidence of impact (in game or out) you are looking for.

     
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    Sherry Yi
  • Icon for: H Chad Lane

    H Chad Lane

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 07:48 p.m.

    Hi Scot, glad you enjoyed it, we enjoyed making it. Thanks also for your questions...

    1.  We've got the system working in a few modes that provide slightly different experiences. For our summer camps, we have a lot of time to work with, so the kids explore freely during that time with the instructions to "find what looks different". They are told that this is Earth with no moon, but they don't know yet what it could mean. We are also considering having them plant signs in Minecraft as evidence of their observations. After collecting observations, we then talk through what could possibly explain them. For example, you may have noticed very short, wide trees in the video, and also that they were hiding behind a worn down mountain. This is due to the ferocious winds and difficulty of surviving otherwise. In the camps, we provide open play, science learning activities, and world building tools (e.g., worldedit) so they can graduate to building their own what-if worlds.   

    1b. A second mode is fast, and suitable for shorter experiences in museums. Here they ride on a rail and make observations pretty quickly - we then provide explanations as they make the observations. All of this, including the first case, are derived from a master list of differences created by Dr. Comins, who has pioneered this approach to astronomy education (he has two books exploring the questions!).

    1c. We capture their questions with notes and audio recordings, and interview them as well to drill down into their thinking. We have also designed surveys to capture Minecraft and STEM interest, but "liking" is known to have some pretty significant limitations in research on interest.

    2.  In terms of impact, our overarching goal is to conduct research on the design of triggers of interest in STEM. We hypothesize that interactive what-if worlds can act as strong triggers, and we hope to sustain that interest through continued interaction with Minecraft. We have a server that we will make available to kids to play, and envision it as a continuing resource for them and to gauge extended interest development. As an EXP and after our first year, we haven't made this available yet as we are still designing the worlds and refining the camps, but it is our plan.  Successful triggers of interest are very powerful (Renninger & Hidi's 2016 book summarizes it perfectly, and Dr. Renninger is one of the project advisors).

    Please let me know if you have more questions!  I wrote much more than I intended!

  • Icon for: Jessica Hammer

    Jessica Hammer

    Facilitator
    May 15, 2018 | 03:02 p.m.

    I'm curious about the role of Minecraft in your "fast" mode. It sounds like kids do not get to interact very deeply with the game world because of time constraints. What other benefits might there be to having this experience be implemented in Minecraft, even if it's minimally interactive?

    For your camps, how are you recruiting and engaging students? For example, are you primarily recruiting students with a prior interest in Minecraft and using that interest to engage them with astronomy? Or are there other pathways into your experience?

     
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    Sherry Yi
  • Icon for: H Chad Lane

    H Chad Lane

    Lead Presenter
    May 16, 2018 | 06:10 a.m.

    Thanks, Jessica. That's right, like any museum exhibit, we do what we can with the very short amount of time we can get with the learner, and let them ride on minecarts through the various maps and say out loud what looks different. We use this as a way to engage in conversations about the science behind the differences, and with the aim to trigger interest in the content. Our plan is to make the server available to these learners, so we can use future logins to the server as an example of the trigger being effective. That's one reason why Minecraft is a good fit - connecting to servers is a normal part of playing. The second reason (perhaps more powerful) is that for so many kids, Minecraft is "their turf" and they are already comfortable with it. Unlike other games, they seem to be embracing its use in education. On the museum floors, when we recruit, we ask "Would you like to try out our Minecraft mods?" and we've had no problem getting kids to try it out.

    For the camps, we are working with the Champaign-Urbana Fab Lab who run many Minecraft camps throughout the summer. Those camps get a large number of kids who have played a lot, but some who are new as well. We are interested in both cases... for the kids with tons of experience, we wonder if there is some underlying existing interest in STEM that draws them to the game (because it is essentially a simulation of the natural world), so we have surveys that seek to uncover these latent variables, and are doing interviews to see if we detect changes based on our mods. For those with less Minecraft experience, we help them with basic interaction and it usually doesn't take long before they are into it!   

  • Icon for: Robert Zisk

    Robert Zisk

    Facilitator
    May 15, 2018 | 10:15 p.m.

    I am particularly interested in the kids being able to create their own what-if scenarios in the summer camp. I know you mentioned they had more time to explore because it is in a camp setting, but if a student comes up with a what-if, how are the worlds created? Are there a set of parameters they can change or is it more involved than that?

     
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    Sherry Yi
  • Icon for: Sherry Yi

    Sherry Yi

    Co-Presenter
    May 18, 2018 | 03:44 p.m.

    Robert,

    The worlds are made in Creative Mode, which grants campers unlimited Minecraft resources! It's very much true to its game genre (sandbox) in the sense that anything is possible. In my experience working on the project, I have seen a fairytale book that also served as a house, giant boats, and fictional or realistic skyscrapers. It's very akin to Legos minus the expense.

    As far as parameters, Chad has already touched on this with the science learning activities and world editing tool training. We really want campers to get engaged in science concepts, so it's more about the exploration of those topics, hand-in-hand with their imaginations, and hard science facts (we won't be seeing any what-if worlds about alien invasions, for example).

  • Icon for: H Chad Lane

    H Chad Lane

    Lead Presenter
    May 16, 2018 | 06:33 a.m.

    Yeah, Robert, it's really exciting to watch the kids create their own worlds!  The camp runs 4 hours per day for a week. On M-W, kids engage in three main activities, which are interleaved:

    1. Exploring our what-if maps:  What if the moon didn't exist? What if the Earth was closer to the Sun? and What if the earth's axis was tilted?  (spread out across the 3 days)
    2. Science learning activities: We have 6 mini-science lessons that are designed to address the relevant issues needed to explain the scenarios, two per day. We also get into exoplanets a bit.
    3. World editing tools training: We teach the campers how to use popular world editing tools, like WorldEdit and MCEdit. We also show them how to explore and use mods and resource packs, which can be used to change the weather, sky, animals, and more.

    Later on Wednesday, we ask the campers to think of their own what-if questions, and then we help guide them to find ones that are both scientifically interesting and feasible to build out in Minecraft. Then, on Thursday and Friday, the work hard at it (sometimes in pairs if they want), ask all kinds of questions, pose hypotheses, and more. On Friday, if they want, we ask them to put their world up on the big screen and give everyone a tour. It's a lot of fun to watch!

    I will ask one of our camp coordinators to add a bit about what is involved with the world editing tools... 

  • Icon for: Maureen Callanan

    Maureen Callanan

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 17, 2018 | 06:13 p.m.

    This is such a great video!  I can imagine that this project is likely to engage kids quickly and then draw them in more deeply because of the intriguing questions that can be pondered.  Great work!  I'm wondering if you have any data on how young people from diverse backgrounds engage with your interactive exploration tools?

     
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    H Chad Lane
  • Icon for: H Chad Lane

    H Chad Lane

    Lead Presenter
    May 17, 2018 | 07:39 p.m.

    Thanks Maureen, that means a lot!  It's great when we go collect data, we just ask kids "Do you want to try our Minecraft mods?" and 90% don't even hesitate, they just look to Mom/Dad and say "Can I?"  It's incredible how powerful it is to get kids through the door, and it has helped me to understand why using it in educational contexts doesn't ruin anything about the game - they just like it, no matter what they are doing in it. The question of diversity is a really important one, and we don't really have good demographics available for Minecraft players (Mojang doesn't collect it). It's a little better in terms of gender based on what I have found (than other video games), but still disappointing. For our part, we are actively reaching out to work with diverse groups - for example, for two weeks this summer we are running camps at the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center, which has a vision of "a healthy, compassionate, progressive community where all children and families have access to services and supports that empowers successful development." Our camps are provided free of charge, and they filled up quickly! So after this summer, we'll have data from this group (30 learners) with good representation from groups who are underrepresented in STEM. So we'll hope to be able to answer your question, at least a little, very soon!

  • Small default profile

    Mark Guadagnoli

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 18, 2018 | 07:45 a.m.

    Chad, this is amazing!  Ali and I watched it together and she wants to be at the camp : )  Congratulations!  So cool!

     
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    Sherry Yi
    H Chad Lane
  • Icon for: Neil Comins

    Neil Comins

    Co-Presenter
    May 18, 2018 | 11:51 a.m.

         I thought it might be useful to share the back story and also how we are approaching the science education component of WHIMC. 

         Starting back in the early 1990s, I began constructing alternative versions of Earth by asking, "What if...?" questions (stimulated by such questions from my then young son, James).  The consequences of, for example, Earth never having a Moon or having two Moons, or having Earth's rotation axis tilted differently, or having a hotter or cooler Sun, or having a more massive or less massive Earth, or... are fascinating and wide ranging.  Every such alternative Earth is distinctly different than ours.  Indeed, the interest has led to a variety of books, and TV and planetarium shows based on this "What if?" premise.  (It almost led to a TV series -- it was fun going to Hollywood and pitching it to the networks.)    

         Our approach to WHIMC is to start with a few What if? scenarios and create biomes based of what the Earth would actually be like under those conditions.  For example, if the Sun were cooler, Earth would have to be closer to it, which would shorten the length of the year and raise the tides created by the sun, among other things.  The MC users can explore these worlds and compare them to an Earth-based biome.   Users will be able to ask their own What if? questions, such as, "What if the Moon was 10 times closer than it is?" and then create that biome (by manipulating variables).  We hypothesize that world-building and the adventure of exploring such biomes will strongly stimulate interest in STEM.  A crucial point of all this work is that our worlds are based on science, rather than science fiction.  As time goes by, we expect to incorporate a very wide range of scenarios and, as MC users are motivated to ask "What if?" questions we haven't explored, to add them, too.

     
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    Sherry Yi
    H Chad Lane
  • Icon for: Jennifer Atkinson

    Jennifer Atkinson

    Project Manager, STEM Guides
    May 20, 2018 | 07:55 p.m.

    Great video and a really interesting discussion. Not being too familiar with Minecraft (except for my children's initial interest a few years ago) I don't have a sense of how deep the kids can travel with their questions in a minecraft scenario. What challenges and/or motivates them more - their ability to work with minecraft or their interest in researching the questions? Are they mostly considering changes in forces and how they affect landscapes and seascapes? And what are the ages of the campers? I think I may have missed that detail above. And how do you help them to continue to explore their interest after camp? Do the youth have access to minecraft at home or school? Do they get connected with other informal STEM opportunities that reflect their interests at camp?  

  • Icon for: Sherry Yi

    Sherry Yi

    Co-Presenter
    May 20, 2018 | 11:37 p.m.

    Jennifer,

    Great questions! To put it simply, you can go pretty deep into some STEM topics using MC, all depending on how you use it. I've interviewed college freshmen majoring in STEM now who were MC fanatics when they were in middle school, and some of them directly credit MC as having influenced their college major choice. They were able to use MC as a means to practice coding, building circuits, and actively challenge their imaginations. From what I gather, playing the game is largely a social experience.

    The campers we have been working with are in the middle school range and that's our target age group, though we have a few who are younger (the youngest ones being 8) and some older (14). The fact that they get to engage in video games is a huge draw for many campers and there's a large chunk of that from modern culture - MC has drawn its popularity from third party sources like Youtube and Twitch, and even if kids haven't played the game at home, they talk about the game as if they've known it all their life. 

    When campers are brought into these different what-if scenario worlds, they are asked to make observations on the landscapes and seascapes. There is a sort of "navigation" pane where campers will be able to see the current temperature, humidity, and the like. We also prompt questions along the way. For example, for a scenario where the Sun is far away from Earth, "Why do you think there's life below ground, but not above?" This engages campers in a conversation about temperature and how it affects life. It's also a valuable opportunity to discover and correct misconceptions about science (a past camper said it's because "the sun is happy").

    We are working on a collection of lessons, as well as a 24/7 server, that will be accessible to anyone who visits our site. This means that campers will be able to return to our world at anytime and interact with others who are online, and continue to explore any interests triggered during camp. Our camps are free for all its attendees, however individual access to the game at home (one-time ~$28 purchase) or at school (bulk discounts and educational versions available) would require software purchase. This investment would be well spent, as game modifications (or "mods") are all made by MC players themselves and come completely free. Mods are able to change the gameplay entirely and add additional elements, such as solar energy and nuclear reactors, that would allow campers to foster their STEM interests.

    You may also be interested in checking out MinecraftEdu, an initiative created under Microsoft. There are many existing curriculums that integrate MC into school lessons - and not just in STEM, but in the language and arts as well!

     
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    Neil Comins
  • Icon for: H Chad Lane

    H Chad Lane

    Lead Presenter
    May 21, 2018 | 10:37 a.m.

    Thanks so much for your interest, Jennifer, you captured some of the most important questions we are attempting to address, and I'll just add a bit to Sherry's answer.

    My hypothesis on this rests on the work of Renniger and Hidi's (2016) model of interest development, and I see Minecraft as an environment that acts as a resource for kids who have a more fundamental interest in STEM (called a latent variable in the words of psychometricians). In other words, there is some fundamental interest in STEM for many kids, and consciously or not, Minecraft is an environment that allows them to interact with that content and strengthen their interest. So it is not as much a STEM vs. Minecraft interest, but rather one acting as a context for pursuit of the other. Our project, then, is just a way to magnify the very cool things we are already seeing happening in the game. This hypothesis is consistent with another observation we have made, which is that using Minecraft for educational purposes doesn't seem to be ruining it at all for learners - they are pleased to be able to pursue learning activities on their own turf.

    Another thing I'll add is that there is a wide range of what is manipulable in Minecraft. In our camps, we don't assume any coding skills, so we are focused on surface features of and what is possible through existing mods. But, as an exploratory grant, we are aiming high in our future work, and want to bring in modding and extend the capabilities of the system to let kids build more elaborate versions of their own worlds, such as changing the physics and weather models (see this related Showcase Video - really amazing tools for modding). 

    Lastly, we do offer the server 24/7 for kids to continue their engagement later, and our two astronomers on the team (Neil and Jorge) will be at one of our camps in Champaign-Urbana to talk about other opportunities - it will be awesome. We are recording their presentations for sharing on our website, whimc.education.illinois.edu

    thanks again!!!

     
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    Neil Comins
  • Small default profile

    Fran Blumberg

    K-12 Administrator
    May 20, 2018 | 08:23 p.m.

    Video and idea is very cool!! Maybe you can crack the far transfer nut!!!

     
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    Sherry Yi
  • Icon for: Sherry Yi

    Sherry Yi

    Co-Presenter
    May 20, 2018 | 11:20 p.m.

    Fran,

    That's what we're hoping for! Or at least obtain some clues as to how we can at least trigger/sustain STEM interest from in-game to real world, and vice versa.

     
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    Neil Comins
  • May 21, 2018 | 10:41 a.m.

    I love this, Chad! What a great way to spur an interest in science, helping students see the impact of the different phenomena they take for granted, and to imagine how things could be different.

     
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    H Chad Lane
  • Further posting is closed as the showcase has ended.