When it comes to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), American kids are falling behind other kids in countries. There are lots of organizations--from ExxonMobil to the National Science Digital Library (NSDL)--are working hard to reverse this trend and get more kids into a science education track.
For example, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has a STEM education initiative for teachers and they provide an array of professional development resources (many for free) for teachers over on their online Learning Center.
STEM education--for both students and teachers--is at the core of President Obama's educational reform package. These are all great programs and let's face it, when it comes to STEM education programs, the more the merrier.
NASA, who has a vested interest in having a steady flow of qualified people to develop our national space programs, is ready to embark on a new and bold plan to get America's youth--from elementary school to higher education--interested in space exploration.
Their secret weapon? A virtual world build around a mission to Mars.
In an effort to encourage more kids to pursue science careers, NASA has created a Learning Technologies Project Office (LPTO) and partnered with three video game producers to create, Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond.
According to NASA:
The game will enable participants to learn and be tested on real skills through single-player and team-based missions based on real NASA technologies, such as the Hubble Space Telescope.
In addition, players
will interact with NASA digital assets, such as hyper-realistic digital
renderings of Mars rovers and telescope images taken of and from space.
The level at which users participate in these missions will depend on age and education, among other factors. So, while the game promises to have a big impact on higher education, it will also be geared toward students as young as 13 who can participate at a level suited to their experience."
Today's kids are savvy and have lots of choices when it comes to virtual worlds. If the Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond doesn't feel authentic, they won't use it. So it's really great to see that NASA had the foresight to consult and collaborate with experts from the MMO/virtual world community to develop this project.
Given how much Gen Y love video games and virtual worlds, this type of hands-on, project based learning activity might just be the thing to get more kids interested in science.