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Meet Immersed Games: Middle school science with deep learning built in

Interview with Lindsey Tropf, Founder & CEO of Immersed Games.

Immersed Games creates modular video game content to help middle school students learn science and STEM skills. Using their product, Tyto Online, students can do things like build complex ecosystems from scratch to learn ecology, and work with a botanist to solve food shortage challenges.

We sold our first, smaller test product to over 30,000 paying users who were building ecosystems and learning about ecology.

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Since then, we’ve had R&D grants from the National Science Foundation and Dept. of Education and are currently working on a $750,000 Phase II SBIR with the NSF. We conducted pilots and initial efficacy studies as part of these grants to learn and improve our products.

The 2019–2020 school year was our first sales cycle and we sold over 4,200 student licenses. With the COVID-19 related school closures, we’ve also had hundreds of teachers sign up over the last couple weeks and we’re working on supporting them right now.

I was working on a Ph.D. in education and interested in game-based learning and its potential to empower students for deep learning experiences. Like in commercial games, a game-based product could help students learn over time in a community of practice that grows and improves together… but around meaningful educational topics.

As I went through my Ph.D. program, I kept linking ideal learning models back to gaming mechanics and approaches. I accidentally created a mental model for what amazing learning would look like within a game, and assumed it existed. However, when I started digging in for my dissertation, I discovered it didn’t — that the educational games market had some major limitations for learning impact.

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First, most educational games are shallow and practice-based. They aren’t developing the skills educators consider critical to 21st-century learning.

Second, most actually solid games have been one-off experiences that offer only 15 minutes to maybe an hour of gameplay. This limits the ability of educators or self-motivated learners to be able to learn with games over time, knowing what to do next to level up to the next learning point.

So the idea that we could create a single video game that would serve as a platform with deep learning that focused on skill-building and with many areas of content so that learners and educators could easily use game-based learning regularly as part of their learning process began to emerge for me. I believed that we could help reach this ideal goal of what learning could be in games that people have dreamt about for a long time, but have yet to be reached.

The new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) represent a huge paradigm shift in how science is taught. It focuses on not telling students content, but having them construct knowledge with “three-dimensional learning” where students use science and engineering practices to actively learn.

These new standards have been adopted by states across the country, with 80% of students making the transition so far. However, this represents a massive new challenge for educators and there are not enough new curricular materials that fit the NGSS’ pedagogy adequately.

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We’re built for strong NGSS pedagogy. With our product, Tyto Online, students directly engage with science phenomena by doing hands-on experiences like collecting data to figure out if something is an invasive species. This approach uses the NGSS’ innovations, like using science and engineering practices to figure out the science, sense-making from an anchoring phenomenon, and has storylines ready to go for teachers.

Our team is a blend of game developers and instructional designers who came together passionate about our mission and working together to make a groundbreaking educational product!

After this first year in schools, we’re ready to start ramping things up and more quickly on-boarding teachers, supporting learners, and expanding our reach. LearnLaunch’s experience in supporting edtech startups to these goals is unparalleled, so we’re excited to get started!

Learn more about Immersed games on https://www.tytoonline.com/ and http://www.immersedgames.com/. Also follow them on Twitter @immersedgames and on Medium at Immersed Games.

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LearnLaunch Accelerator is the leading edtech startup program.

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