PLAN 86: Article
The Radix Endeavor

A New Online Game to Help Teach High School Math and Biology

With a $3M grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, SA+P’s Education Arcade has designed, built and researched a Massive Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) to help high school students learn math and biology. The project is one of several efforts at SA+P exploring new approaches to education.

Massive Multiplayer Online Games are a hugely popular genre in which many players’ avatars can interact and cooperate in a shared virtual world, working together to understand how that world works and using that knowledge to progress in the game. In providing collaborative, self-directed learning situations, they are uniquely suitable for teaching STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), giving students the chance to explore those topics in a way that deepens their knowledge while also developing 21st-century skills.

The story of The Radix Endeavor is set in an earth-like world in which science is being kept from the people by an evil ruler; the players are part of an underground group that’s trying to take science back for the people for their own benefit. Entering the game, players find themselves on an island full of unknown plants and animals, and mysterious places to be discovered, along with many problems to be solved. They come to join a group called The Curiosi who ask for help in finding solutions to some of the island’s worst environmental and social problems.

By figuring out the cause of the problems, how the natural systems work and which factors need to be changed, players can improve the lives of the people and maybe even save the island from destruction. The game’s tasks involve a variety of topics in high school biology, geometry, algebra, and probability and statistics, all designed to align with Common Core standards in mathematics and Next?Generation Science Standards for high school students.

The game uses back-end data logging to track players’ strategies, progress and potential misconceptions, all analyzed in real time to offer feedback to the player; the data is also synthesized and displayed on a ‘Teacher Portal’ website to help teachers monitor student progress and tailor their lessons to students’ needs. The game was developed to assess the potential of an MMOG for STEM learning, as well as the specific ways in which students acquire and apply knowledge in an online environment.

The MIT team worked closely with Filament Games, a Wisconsin-based production studio, as the project’s primary software developers. A number of Boston-area teachers and students took part in a pilot phase in the spring of 2012 using a prototype of the game; by the end of the three-year project, the game is expected to have 10,000 users nationwide. The team is actively seeking high school math and biology teachers to enroll their students in the research pilot launching in early 2014. Anyone can try out the game for free at radixendeavor.org.

As director of the Education Arcade and the Scheller Teacher Education Program, Associate Professor Eric Klopfer has been conducting research into educational gaming tools for more than ten years. Other educational research efforts at SA+P include Mitch Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group, developing new technologies for creative learning experiences, and Deb Roy’s Cognitive Machines group, exploring children's language acquisition, concept formation and attention.