Using a Ludic Simulation to Make Learning of Middle School Space Science Fun

Using a Ludic Simulation to Make Learning of Middle School Space Science Fun

M. Liu (The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA), L. Horton (The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA), J. Kang (The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA), R. Kimmons (University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, USA) and J. Lee (The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/jgcms.2013010105
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Abstract

In this paper, the authors describe a ludic simulation designed for middle school space science and examine its use to support students’ learning and motivation. The participants were 383 sixth graders and 447 seventh graders. The findings of this study showed that sixth- and seventh-graders perceived the simulation as having substantial ludic characteristics and educational value. The results indicated that having a playful experience is important for this age group and that participating in a ludic simulation can help motivate students to learn school subjects. Results also indicated that incorporating ludus into the learning experience can improve students’ attitudes toward the subject matter. Implications of policy, research, and practice with regard to using ludic simulations to support classroom-based learning were discussed.
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Theoretical Framework

Considerations of the pedagogical value of ludus, or play, feature prominently within constructivist metatheory, having been of interest to both cognitive constructivists (Piaget, 1951) and social constructivists (Vygotsky, 1978), and the topic has seen renewed attention in recent years (cf. Singer, Golinkoff, & Hirsh-Pasek, 2006). At early stages of development, children engage with the world and people around them through playful interactions that allow them to learn by imitation, symbolic interaction, and cognitive representation, thereby constructing experiential knowledge about the world (Piaget, 1951). As a result, play for children is “an engaging and deliberate activity to which they devote great effort and commitment” (Rieber, 1996, p. 44), and out of such play, children can develop deep and important understandings. Current research in a variety of fields suggests that “play is an important mediator for learning and socialization throughout life” (Rieber, 1996, p. 44; see also Csikszentmihalyi & Bennett, 1971).

With the introduction of digital technologies, researchers were empowered to think about play in new and innovative ways, and digital games as a method of play have become commonplace amongst consumers on computers, game consoles, and mobile devices. In 2009, for instance, it was reported that 42 percent of U.S. homes had a game console (Ivan, 2009), and the emergence of Internet-based social networking technologies and new content distribution platforms such as Valve Corporation’s Steam (2003) and Apple’s App Store (2008) have enabled the growth of new popular methods of digital gaming like massively multiplayer online games (MOOG’s), casual games, mobile games, and social gaming.

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