About Susannah

Educational Content Manager at the MIT Education Arcade. I work on determining standards and learning objectives for the game, manage teacher partnerships, test prototypes with students and help develop assessments. I'll generally post about content and curriculum development but will share lots of other insights and observations about developing Radix.

Biology Meets Fantasy – Creating the flora and fauna of Radix

The Radix island world is full of plants and animals living everywhere from cities to swamps.  While the setting is “earth-like”, it is not actually earth.  This means that our artists and designers have lots of freedom in what they create.  However, we have to think carefully about the properties of everything that we create.  To begin with – can these plants and animals really exist?  We don’t want to make animals that seem anatomically impossible – a grasshopper the size of the empire state building would collapse under it’s own weight!  We also want teachers to be able to relate the game world to the real world so we try to not stray too far from what we know.  This often leads of a bit of fun – we spent an afternoon looking up all kinds of plants that could glow in the dark.  Bioluminescence is amazing.

LightPlants

Since our plants and animals are being used for biology quests we have to think about them in even more detail.  Anything used in the genetics quest line needs to have well defined traits.  As we think about those traits we have to decide which ones are dominant/recessive combinations?  Which ones are sex-linked?  One of our favorite creations is a striped trait for slugs.  Some have horizontal stripes, some have vertical stripes – we decided those traits would express a co-dominant inheritance pattern and that meant we could breed plaid slugs!  As we develop ecosystems, we determine predator-prey relationships and fit all the plants and animals into food webs.  In most cases, we don’t reveal these relationships to the players.  Instead, through the quests, they discover them.  We set evolutionary relationships in the world allowing students to track changes in traits over time, try to determine common ancestors and make predictions about how organisms in the world might change.

menjis

We want the world to feel new and exciting, but we need it to be accurate.  Sometimes it feels like a very fine line between fantasy and biology. Occasionally though, just when we thought we’ve gone too far into the fantasy world, an internet search shows us that nature can be just as odd as our imaginations.

Happy New Year from Radix!

jungle.020312The 2012 year was a full one for the Radix team.  Our main focus was on design and curriculum we’re really pleased with everything we managed to accomplish.  2013 is shaping up to be a very big year for us.  Our developers, Filament Games in Madison, WI, have begun development on the game and we’re looking forward to seeing the game come alive as they release pieces for us to test.  We’ll continue with play testing in schools using both our own prototypes and the builds from Filament.  With the help of our teacher consultants, we’re beginning work on professional development and training materials.  We’ll also be attending some conferences this spring to recruit teachers and talk more about game.

February 17 – AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, MA                

April 12 – NSTA National Conference in San Antonio, TX  

April 19 – NCTM Annual Meeting in Denver, CO

If you’ll be at any of these meetings, come meet us, say hello and sign up to play the game when it gets released in September of this year!

Selecting the curriculum and content standards

The two main areas of focus for Radix are high school math and biology.  We chose these as the initial content areas because we felt they provided many topic areas that lent themselves well to an MMO and also because they are the areas that our teams knows best.  The challenge came in deciding which specific topics to cover in each domain.

Biology provides many wonderful opportunities for hands on labs and we didn’t want to try to replace any of that.  Instead, we wanted the game to provide a place for students to experiment in ways they can’t do in classroom.  For this first version of the game, we’ve selected genetics, ecology, evolution and human body systems.  Players will be able to breed animals over several generations, advance time hundreds of years to see ecosystem and evolutionary effects and perform medical tests in order to diagnose and treat characters in the world.  The biology standards are selected from the Next Generation Science Standards with details from the College Board Standards for College Success.

Math provided a bit more of a challenge.  There is simply so much material to choose from.  We knew that we wanted to cover geometry because the game lends itself well to measuring and building objects.  We also wanted to cover probability and statistics and give students a chance to see applications of these topics in the MMO world.  In the end, we added a small bit of algebra to the mix as well, specifically focusing on unit conversions and linear equations.  The math curriculum now feels like it fits more into a 10th grade integrated math class.  We really like this approach because as students play through the game, they see connections across areas of math, rather than just discrete topics.  The math standards come from the Common Core State Standards with an emphasis on the math practices that are set out in the CCSS.

We spent several months debating exactly which standards to incorporate into the first version of this game.  We plowed through syllabus after syllabus from classrooms all over the US, looked through pacing guides, read over statewide final exams and talked with our teacher consultants before we narrowed it down.  We’re quite happy with what was finally selected and excited to be turning those standards into quests for the game.

Prototype testing with students begins


So what are we working on these days you might ask?  There are many pieces that go into developing a game such as Radix but one of our main areas of focus for the 2012-2013 school year is testing prototypes with students.  Well before the game is completely developed, we are hard at work testing out everything from narratives to in-game tools.  Once we decide on a particular curriculum topic and create a quest, we make a prototype of that quest.  These can be either simple computer based tasks or even paper activities that will mimic what students will do in the game.  We have a great group of staff and students, both undergraduate and graduate who help us create and test these prototypes. We are currently working with four local teachers, two in math and two in biology who are allowing us to come into their classrooms and get feedback from their students.  These sessions with the students are extremely valuable to us and help inform many aspects of development.  We learn about whether the content is at the right level, whether the tools are usable and whether students enjoy the activity overall.  Students are generally very happy to tell us exactly what they do and do not like about the tasks and we’ve received some fabulous suggestions regarding art, storyline and how to offer in-game hints to complete quests.  Over the next several months we’ll be testing activities for genetics, ecology, geometry, algebra and statistics.  Stay tuned for more updates from the classroom!