This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project proposes to construct the first in a series of science collaborative multiplatform learning games called Martha Madison?s Marvelous Machines. This game will be designed to engage a target audience of middle school girls in virtual collaborative physics projects to improve understanding of the nature of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines and careers. The specific content of this game will enable students to develop understanding of introductory Physics and Engineering aligned with Common Core standards. There will be options for single player play and multi-player play, depending on the platform(s) on which the game is released. In the multi-player option, there will be puzzles which can only be solved through collaboration with other users (via network play). Second Avenue Software (SAS) anticipates the release of Common Core Standards for Science and Martha Madison will be developed according to the Common Core Standards in order to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn. In the event that Common Core Standards for Science are not in draft form at the time of the award, SAS will draw on its extensive experience correlating with state standards to make a physics and engineering game that is engaging, educative and robust.

The broader impact/commercial potential of this project lies in SAS?s contribution to meeting the need of improving physics and engineering education by providing a game-based application which as the potential to increase interest in STEM careers and learning outcomes in STEM disciplines. Based on a review of the literature regarding womens? participation in STEM education, STEM careers and learning modalities for women and girls, this requires development of materials specifically designed to meet their educational needs and interests. Current practice in commercial games reflects this need. Games are frequently designed in two versions: one for boys and one for girls, reflecting each gender?s distinct patterns of play. Martha Madison will be designed to appeal to all genders without alienating boys or girls, while paying special attention to engaging girls in STEM learning. Martha Madison will be created using the Unity 3D platform which allows for publishing to a diverse array of applications including tablets, computers, consoles (all of which now include digital delivery), and mobile devices. With so many possible applications, Martha Madison has tremendous commercial potential.

Project Report

Second Avenue Software, Inc. ("SAS") was awarded a Phase I SBIR (1113493) – Martha Madison’s Marvelous Machines ("Martha Madison"), for the period July 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011. SAS currently has a Phase II SBIR application submitted to the NSF and is pending notification of Phase II award status. Women are significantly underrepresented in STEM careers, filling only 24% of STEM jobs while they hold 48% of all jobs in the U.S. In addition, math and science assessment test results show that U.S. students perform lower than international counterparts. The National Science Foundation, the Departments of Education and Commerce and taskforces such as the Hart Rudman Commission publicly acknowledge the critical importance of STEM competence for U.S. competitiveness and national security. The proposed innovation, a game for middle school girls, is in the subfield of Teaching and Learning Applications. It is designed to improve educational outcomes through a video game designed to increase interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) careers and disciplines in a collaborative, engaging environment. SAS engaged in three primary activities during the term of the Phase I grant in accordance with its original proposal: game design, technical implementation and assessment of the game instrument through playtesting with the target audience. Research was conducted with participants from various rural, suburban and urban clubs and organizations. Participants spanned 6th, 7th and 8th grade and ranged in age from 10-13. Game play data retrieved from instrumentation built into the game correlate with qualitative findings that show very high engagement with the intervention. One indication of high engagement is willingness to explore alternatives in play. When presented with the challenge to find new solutions to levels they had completed, participants were willing to replay levels multiple times to seek alternate solutions. Data also demonstrated a significant increase in STEM affiliation among urban participants following game play (49.73% in the pre-test compared with 69.86% in the post-test), substantially closing the gap from their rural and suburban peers. Martha Madison appears to promote effective collaboration and communication as well as high levels of positive engagement in the target audience. The vast majority (76.27%) of the segments showed active communication among the participants about their game play. Only 5.55% of the segments showed discussion of non-game related matters. In game data show that students rarely expressed negative affect; impatience (5.84%), boredom (2.75%), or dislike (0.25%). The research data suggests a strong appeal to the intended target audience and strong potential as a tool for learning. Consequently, concurrent with the development and research efforts, commercialization discussions are ongoing. Potential partners have had access to working documents, a demo reel and to the prototype. This has resulted in significant commercial interest.

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Second Avenue Software, Inc.
United States
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