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The Young Socratics is seeking to revolutionise classroom-based learning with its new scientific video game

A new video game is seeking to introduce a new way of teaching science to teenagers.

Odyssey, from innovative educators The Young Socratics, is an exciting adventure game that tells the story of 13-year-old Kai and her family, stranded on a Caribbean island after their boat was sunk by pirates. But it also tells the story of the history of astronomy, mechanics and scientific reasoning – and features puzzles that require an understanding of scientific models to solve.

The game, which features a story written by Tomb Raider: Underworld creative director Eric Lindstrom, was recently trialled at AltSchool in Palo Alto, to promising results.

AltSchool – a network of schools around the United States with a focus on personalised learning – introduced its middle school students to Odyssey as part of a science assessment.

Classes began with an introduction to the relevant topics, before students played the game, solved the puzzles, and discussed the solutions. At the end students undertook a short assessment.

A different approach

The Young Socratics hope that Odyssey presents a different, more engaging approach to game-based learning than previous attempts.

Omkar Deshpande, who co-founded The Young Socratics with Vivek Kaul, said: “Educational games generally tend to feel quite overtly educational, and there is either no storytelling or it’s patched on top of the content in an incidental way. We have gone much further in developing the environment and story in the journal, and blending it with the history of science content in a very unique way.”

An encouraging first step

Deshpande said the results were encouraging, with many students able to demonstrate that they had absorbed the topics through their playing of the game.

However, he stressed the need for more controlled trials to evaluate their method of teaching.

“The initial results are promising, but truly evaluating effectiveness requires funding,” said Deshpande.

“One would have to create two groups – one to play Odyssey, and the other to be taught using a regular classroom teaching model, with students randomly assigned to each group. If the first group showed better learning than the second, that would show the game-based learning was effective.

“So we are going to keep looking at this. Early signs are good – but we need funding, we need controlled studies, and we need to look very carefully at whether this could be a hugely significant way of improving kids’ educations.”

To that end, The Young Socratics will be releasing Odyssey on the Steam Early Access platform next month, where they hope to gain more feedback and refine their offering ahead of future releases. And despite the limitations of this initial trail, one senior AltSchool educator commented that he was “very impressed” by Odyssey and its approach to science education.

“Working with Omkar and Vivek, we introduced our students to game-based learning, using Odyssey to deepen our exploration of science,” said Chris Bezsylko, Head of AltSchool Palo Alto.

“Our middle school students were highly engaged in the flow of the game. They especially enjoyed searching the island and the journal for clues and working together in teams to solve puzzles. As an educator, I was very impressed with their historical representation of science from earliest astronomy to physics, and we found that the game aligned well with our inquiry-based approach to science.”

The kids’ comments

Fifth grader (11 years old): “The game was very exciting and fun because you never know what is going to come next. I feel like the tasks in the game were really challenging.”

Sixth grader (12 years old): “I like how hard the puzzles were and that you get journal pages to help you solve the puzzles. I think we should continue game-based learning because it helps us collaborate with other people while playing the game.”

Seventh grader (13 years old): “What I liked the most about game-based learning unit was that I got to learn more about astronomy without having to take so many notes.”

Seventh grader (13 years old): “I think game-based learning is valuable and interesting… I think that we should continue using game-based learning as it adds a lot more challenge and fun into the unit.”

Odyssey will release via Steam Early Access on 23 February 2017, for a discounted price of $14.99.

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