Monday, April 25, 2011

Vanished Science Game: An Update

Another family is playing the Vanished science game with us.  Vanished, as I described in an earlier post, is an online game developed by MIT and the Smithsonian Institute to engage middle schoolers in science investigations.  In the game, we are being contacted by someone from the future, who is trying to figure out what caused an environmental disaster in their time/place that also wiped out all written records.  Participants get various clues and assignments online, but also are requested to go out into the world to collect data about climate, animal and plant species, and other environmental factors, and to upload them onto the site.  There are a number of collaborating museum and science centers that are also sponsoring events to assist with this project.

We are fortunate, because one of the museums that is participating is the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh.  Last week we got a communication from our mysterious online leader telling us to visit the museum on Saturday, April 23, to get more clues about the situation.  So our team went down there, not knowing what to expect.

It took us a bit, but eventually we found our game contact in Miss Liz, who is one of the educators who works at the museum.  She did not tell us anything directly, but pointed us in the direction of a few exhibits that she thought would help answer the cryptic message we had received about visiting the museum.  She was also wonderful about helping us think through what we had noticed from the exhibit, and answering questions about the science of that situation, if not about the game per se, which she said she didn't know any more about than we did.  After we had displayed enough understanding of the exhibit, she awarded us with individual patches from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, as well as what she called an "easter egg" (in the digital sense, even though ours happened to take place during the Easter weekend)--another clue about the mystery, this time in the form of a poem.

I will admit that I am very confused about what is going on with this game.  However, our students are interested and engaged, and they are enjoying it.  We can understand specific directions in the game, including the "missions" that include data collection and reporting, and events such as visiting the Museum on Saturday, and those activities are valuable, regardless of whether or not we ever figure out the overall mystery.   And I really appreciated the activity on Saturday because although we've probably visited that museum close to 100 times since it opened, and have walked by the exhibit involved most of those visits, I never took the time to piece together the story that part of the exhibit told until this Vanished visit on Saturday.  It just goes to show the depth of information in these science museums, and how even those of us who are members and frequent visitors still have lots to learn, no matter how many times we have been there.

So I would recommend this program to other middle schoolers who want to add a little science mystery to their end of the school year activities.  All the past activities are on the website, so you can still catch up if you are interested.  This is an interesting attempt to engage middle schoolers in science in a very non-traditional way.

No comments:

Post a Comment