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Mark Smithfield * spends his days roaming Taiga National Park looking for answers. The Moongabela River that runs through the area was once teeming with trout, but now most of the fish are dead, and Smithfield wants to know why.
Like a private investigator, he treks through lush green pathways, stopping to question park rangers, nearby indigenous people, fly fishermen, and employees of the local logging company. Later, he checks the river's temperature, oxidation, and pH levels and combs through online and print resources to find out what it all means. All the while, he carefully records everything in his notebook--information he'll need for an exhaustive research paper on his findings.
Smithfield isn't a world-renowned scientist working in a remote part of the world--he's a 10-year-old sitting in front of a computer. And the game he and other fourth graders at University Elementary School in Bloomington, IN, have been playing for the last few weeks is Quest Atlantis (www.questatlantis.org), a free multi-user 3-D virtual environment in which humans provide the inhabitants of the planet Atlantis with knowledge as they slowly rebuild their destroyed Arch of Wisdom.
Throw out your outdated notions of what's appropriate for the classroom--a growing number of researchers and educators are convinced that game-based learning is about to hit K-12 schools in a big way, and they want you to know that it works. The very idea that gaming may be integral to learning may alarm, or even offend, some teachers and media specialists. But Joel Foreman, an associate professor at George Mason University who studies Web-based learning technologies, says interactive software spawned by video gaming is successfully competing with print media for students' attention--and educators should not ignore this trend.