The overarching hypothesis of this project is that interactive, dynamic learning environments can facilitate student understanding and learning of complex biological concepts. To address this hypothesis, we will have developed Meta!Blast, an interactive application on cell biology and STEM. Students are immersed in a three-dimensional, biologically accurate plant cell. Individual biological concepts are parsed into student tasks, while keeping these tasks in the context of the whole environment. Meta!Blast combines sophisticated simulation technology with accurate biological information, to allow students to explore and interact with a cell and during this process to discover cellular energetics, gene function, and cellular defenses. The ability to change environmental scales can make the student aware of not only the individual parts and processes in the cell but how they work together to allow the whole to function.
Our aims are (1) refine and expand features of Meta!Blast based on formative evaluations;(2) Implement Meta!Blast in informal settings, including museums and after-school and enrichment programs for students traditionally underrepresented in sciences. (3) Iterative formative evaluation of Meta!Blast as an in-school intervention by members of the target audience by Research Institute for Studies in Education (RISE). Target audiences will be teachers and their students drawn from Iowa, with its rural population and Hispanic populations, and from Mississippi, which has a high proportion of underrepresented groups. (4) Summative evaluation by RISE of the impact of using Meta!Blast as an instructional supplement for high school biology. The fundamental principles and content underlying Meta!Blast development are based on the Content Standards of the National Academy of Sciences for life science, grades 9-12. Careful scaffolding of science content through the use of dialogue, interactive experiences, and built-in assessments, will increase the complexity of the experience, and require students to use previous information to succeed at new challenges. In-game assessment tools will enable teachers to monitor student progress. The successful completion of this project will expose educators and children to new concepts of cell and metabolic biology, improve teaching of key life science and STEM concepts, and add to our understanding of the use of interactive computer technology as an intervention for teaching abstract scientific concepts.

Public Health Relevance

This project will evaluate and enhance an interactive software module, Meta!Blast, containing biologically accurate 3D cell parts and molecules, integrated with a plot and characters. The application will dynamically illustrate modern concepts in cell and metabolic biology, prepare students for their public role, and stimulate students to join the biological and medical teaching and research professions.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Office of The Director, National Institutes of Health (OD)
Education Projects (R25)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRR1-CR-6 (01))
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Beck, Lawrence A
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Iowa State University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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