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Local middle school students help develop video game to be featured at White House on National Lab Day

May 7, 2010

Eighth graders at Hanes Middle School played a key role in the development of CellCraft, a science education video game created by a Wake Forest graduate and a Wake Forest University professor.   On May 11, one day before the game is featured in an event at the White House celebrating the first National Lab Day, the Hanes students will be among the first to play the final version of CellCraft.

At 9:40 a.m. school administrators, including Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Don Martin, and Wake Forest representatives will gather at Hanes Middle School to recognize the involvement of Hanes students in this project.

In the high-action game, players must learn how cells work to save the inhabitants of a planet set for destruction.  Last fall, Hanes students beta-tested an earlier version of the game and their feedback was used to make the final version.  CellCraft teaches middle-schoolers advanced cellular science – and, more importantly, inspires them to love it.  In pre- and post-game tests with the Hanes students, CellCraft’s developers found that, when the game was played by middle-school students, they not only gained a greater understanding of science concepts but also said they enjoyed learning more.

After reviewing some of the rudiments of cell science, players must tell the cell where to forage for food and how many virus-fighting machines to build to ensure its survival.

“If you learn how cells work, your cell will thrive,” said Jed Macosko, an assistant professor of physics and science adviser for the CellCraft project.  “If you squander resources or ignore threats, your cell will die.”

The game is a case study for how new methods for teaching science will help stem the growing national crisis in science, technology, engineering and math education.

“To remain a world player, we must open up a new realm of ideas for our children, one that will inspire them into careers in sciences,” said Macosko.  “I think that the nanoscopic universe inside the cell is just the thing.”

According to the National Science Teachers Association, if teachers don’t engage students in science by seventh grade, then those young people likely are lost to science careers forever.  If the nation’s ability to remain an economic power rests in the hands of today’s middle-schoolers, then educators will have a new tool to face the challenge of teaching those students high-level science.

The developers intend to roll out the game to other schools, at no charge, in early summer.

CellCraft was funded in 2009 by a $25,000 Young Innovator Award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, via the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advance Collaboratory.  Former graduate student Anthony Pecorella directed the project.

Schedule for May 11 event at Hanes Middle School:

9:40 a.m. Thirty eighth grade students will play CellCraft in the Computer Lab, Room 230

10 a.m. Jed Macosko, coordinator of the Cell Craft project and assistant professor of physics at Wake Forest, will recognize the contributions of Hanes and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system to the success of the project.  Hanes Middle School administrators and Don Martin, Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools superintendent, will also speak briefly.

10:15 a.m.  Students will go back to playing the game.  Game developers and students will be available to talk with media.

Press Contacts:

Cheryl Walker
(336) 758-5237

Ellen Sterner Sedeno
(214) 546-8893

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