Video Games for Science Education

My six-year old son is currently fascinated with the Wild Kratts section of PBSKids. With my son's interest in wild animals, Wild Kratts clearly provides a learning platform for science concepts that is combined with adventure and fun. In the adventure, my son tries to collect all sorts of creature powers. After getting all these resources, he then proceeds to the final challenge of rescuing entire habitats:

Above picture captured from
Throughout the games, a wild animal is featured, highlighting its physical features and abilities. For each animal, the habitat is likewise touched upon, revealing its defining characteristics and the adaptations of its creatures. The following are the learning goals of this program (
The learning goals of Wild Kratts are to:
  1. Teach six to eight-year-old viewers natural history and age-appropriate science by building on their natural interest in animals. 
  2. Develop and strengthen basic skills of observation and investigation that children will use increasingly as they continue their study of science.
  3. Build excitement in science that will remain with them throughout their lives.
Animals can take you anywhere in science. This series now takes the natural appeal of animals and harnesses it towards the goal of teaching science concepts to children ages 6- 8. 
Educationally, Wild Kratts is timely, focusing on science just as educational indicators show an alarming trend of low performance and interest in science in today’s children in international comparisons (NSF Indicators 2004). The smart, fun, confident, enthusiastic characters of Wild Kratts provide role models that are culturally diverse to ensure that a wide range of viewers can identify with, and thus learn with, the characters in the show. 
In Wild Kratts, science content is always seamlessly integrated with the stories. As they learn about the world and science through animals, the characters actively apply their new knowledge to achieving their goals and completing the mission – whether it be exploring the never-before-seen deep sea in search of new creatures or finding out why worms come out from their underground home when it rains! New understandings or questions are closely tied to plot points that send the characters in new directions in their adventures of mystery, discovery, and rescue. 
Science content is focused to support curriculum standards as laid out by the National Science Education Standards (NSES) from the National Academy of Sciences and with the Benchmarks for Science Literacy from American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Of primary importance for this age group is to provide an inquiry- based educational approach: encouraging viewers to ask questions, complete investigations/observations, answer questions, and present results. This process is modeled by the characters and is central to each and every story. The fact that our successful heroes use an inquiry-based approach to life and learning, and our perpetually unsuccessful villain does not, sends a clear message to children about the inherent value of this critical thinking skill.
My son also watches videos from this program. One example is about animals from the Arctic, a preview of this episode is shown below:

I have not applied assessment tools to determine how much my son is really learning from these games. By simply judging from some of the conversations I have had with him especially the questions he ask, it is quite clear that he is learning something from this program.

Technology does provide a new route to education through video games. This is different from slide presentations or online textbooks, which are basically just changes in the medium. Games, by their very nature, engage whoever is playing. During the past few years, video games designed for science education have been active areas of research. And research so far has shown that there are indeed positive outcomes on science education from video games. A recent paper in the Journal of Research in Science and Teaching, "Game-Based Curricula in Biology Classes: Differential Effects Among Varying Academic Levels", for example, provides a multilevel assessment of how a video game benefits science learning:
The game explored in the above study is called Mission Biotech, which has the following as one of its introductory videos:

The game can be downloaded from and I went through solving the first mission, which required knowledge of how to extract nucleic acids (DNA) from a patient's sample. I basically went through the steps necessary to separate DNA. This part of the game essentially covers important aspects of DNA extraction, as described, for example, in one of the lessons in the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah:

Visit to view this lesson
The game is designed to go along with a number of mini-lectures as well as short specific laboratory activities. Three groups of high school students are included in this study, all had at least one year of biology class. The results are summarized in the following tables:

Table downloaded from Sadler, T. D., Romine, W. L., Stuart, P. E. and Merle-Johnson, D. (2013), Game-Based Curricula in Biology Classes: Differential Effects Among Varying Academic Levels. J. Res. Sci. Teach., 50: 479–499. doi: 10.1002/tea.21085
As the abstract states:
Results indicated statistically and practically significant gains in student performance on both a proximal (curriculum-aligned) test and a distal (standards-aligned) exam of biological content knowledge.