Accelerating Learning through Game Play

By helping the Mars Rover navigate the terrain and complete missions, students learn programming and math skills through problem-solving.

Imagine an online classroom where students learn through teamwork, exploration and play. Through a collaboration between the Pentagon’s Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, StandardsWork, Inc. and Lockheed Martin, researchers are now testing a prototype game that teaches students programming and math skills. All they have to do is play it!

In The Mars Game, the player takes the role of an autonomous Mars rover, sent to prepare a habitat for a team of human explorers who are already en route. Just before landing, the rover’s spacecraft is struck by a rogue asteroid, and the rover crash lands in a damaged state, its equipment and supplies scattered in all directions. Students need to work through a series of interactive mathematical and programming problem-solving challenges to help the rover gather its parts from the surrounding environment, repair itself, and regain contact with the human explorers who are doomed without the player’s help.

This type of online education allows students to engage in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning and build their skills, at no cost, from anywhere in the world, so long as they have a web connection.

“We’ve seen that immersive, story-driven experiences can inspire and engage young minds through game play,” said Lockheed Martin software engineer and Mars Game Principal Investigator Mark Torpey. “Our research hypothesis is that learning games that are designed at a fundamental level to be fun – to be games, and not dressed up homework – will be more effective as learning tools than more conventional approaches.”

Video credit: National Science Foundation