CellEnergy: 2019 Top Pick for Learning

CellEnergy Photosynthesis Labs, Andamio's recently released life science app, has received a 4-star rating from Common Sense Education, an independent evaluator of digital learning tools. CellEnergy received special mention for its scaffolded approach, its support of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) topic "Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems," its usefulness in addressing common misconceptions related to the carbon cycle, and the valuable opportunity for students to practice designing experiments and graph data. 

According to Common Sense Education,

Our editorial reviews are based on a research-backed rubric developed specifically to evaluate the learning potential of digital tools. Our rubric evaluates three key qualities essential to great digital learning experiences: engagement, pedagogy, and support, including (but not limited to) how engrossing the tool is to use, whether it promotes conceptual understanding and creativity, how it adapts to students' individual needs, and how well it supports knowledge transfer.

The review was conducted by Emily Pohlonski, a National Board Certified high school science teacher in Novi, Michigan, who relies on her classroom experience, as well as master's degrees in educational technology and curriculum & teaching, to inform her evaluations.

CellEnergy was developed with the support of a multi-phased Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award from the National Science Foundation. Andamio Games partnered with life science teachers from Twin Cities area public schools to conduct a multi-classroom test in the Fall of 2018 that demonstrated significant gains among the CellEnergy students when compared to the control group. Results have been submitted for peer-review and publication to a national educational games conference.

Since its release 6 months ago, CellEnergy has achieved 54,000 downloads. Classroom deployment is facilitated by the Andamio Dashboard, along with multiple resources available for biology teachers.

For more information, please send an email to info@andamiogames.com.

Andamio Games Wins $1.1 Million NIH Award

Grant supports development of STEM learning game to increase adolescent engagement in substance abuse treatment

We are pleased to announce the award of a 3-year, $1.1 million Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to transform psycho-education for adolescents and young adults in substance use disorder treatment. The highly-competitive SBIR program, also known as America’s Seed Fund, funds early-stage innovative technology for commercialization.

Young people have a particularly low treatment success rate, and there is a need for novel approaches that are specifically tailored to them. The NIGMS SBIR award will fund the creation of interactive digital educational tools to provide treatment clients with critical information about the neurobiology of addiction and recovery. Effective education on this topic represents an important step towards addressing the opioid and substance abuse epidemic.

Andamio Games is delivering an incredibly innovative way to provide education about substance abuse at a critical time,...
— Pat Dillon, MHTA

This project brings together our experienced instructional designers and software engineers with nationally-renowned substance abuse researchers from the Center for Studies of Addiction in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and education evaluation experts from the University of Minnesota. The team will design and create the educational app BrainAware and carry out a field study with adolescents and young adults undergoing substance use disorder treatment to evaluate its educational efficacy and potential impact on treatment outcomes.

The project is based on iNeuron, the neuroscience app we developed in partnership with the University of Minnesota, and funded through a previous NIMH SBIR and two Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPA) from the National Center for Research Resources. The educational efficacy of iNeuron has been established in a multi-school classroom study (Schleisman et al., in press) and it has been downloaded over 100,000 times.

Dr. Katrina Schleisman, Principal Investigator: “Our goal with BrainAware is to provide a new, engaging learning experience that teaches cutting-edge scientific information about how the brain changes as result of addiction and how it can change through recovery, in a way that appeals to this age group. Our project also fits in with new NIH efforts to address the opioid epidemic, namely the HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-Term) Initiative, which was just launched in April 2018.”

After successful completion of the Phase II study, the BrainAware app and a companion counselor dashboard will be marketed to treatment facilities across the nation through a partnership with Hazelden Publishing. BrainAware is expected to be the first of what will ultimately be a comprehensive, interactive digital curriculum for substance abuse treatment.

“Andamio Games is delivering an incredibly innovative way to provide education about substance abuse at a critical time, as people across the U.S. continue to grapple with the opioid addiction crisis,” says Pat Dillon, Program Director at MN-SBIR, hosted at the Minnesota High Tech Association. “This million-dollar award by NIH is a strong endorsement for Andamio Games’ novel approach.”

About Us: Andamio Games® produces evidence-based mobile device games to make hard-to-learn subjects more engaging and effective. We are in the final year of a National Science Foundation grant, which has funded the development of a life science app, CellEnergy Photosynthesis Labs, to be released this fall. andamiogames.com

About Hazelden Publishing: The mission of Hazelden Publishing is to provide products and services to help people recognize, understand, and overcome addiction and closely related problems. Our goal is to publish real-world resources that are accessible for all experience levels and all learning styles. Hazelden Publishing

About MN-SBIR and the Minnesota High Tech Association: The MN-SBIR Program is hosted at the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA). MN-SBIR is the state's program to help companies to successfully access non-dilutive federal funding opportunities. MN-SBIR is funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. MHTA is an innovation and technology association fueling prosperity and making Minnesota a top five technology state. Mhta.org |@mhta | minnesota-high-tech-association

Goodnight Server Room Released for iPads

Goodnight Server Room is a lighthearted exploration of how computers work and the words we use to talk about them. Originally released as a children’s board book, the game takes a story about the adventures of data and puts you in charge.

The Goodnight Server Room Game is fun for kids from ages one to one hundred. There are lessons for the second graders, nuggets for the adults, and goofy characters for the toddlers. The game has no ads and no hyperlinks.

Goodnight Server Room brings computer science and information technology to life. Bits and bytes leap off the page, engaging you with foundational concepts of computing. Learn how to write numbers in binary, find bugs, and get started with formal logic.

Read the story aloud to your kids, or let them explore on their own. Goodnight Server Room introduces the terminology and concepts of information technology in a fun and approachable style.

And bugs. Don’t forget to find all the bugs!

Getting the Game
Download it for free from the App Store. You can also play free online at gsrgame.smithdtyler.com.

Getting the Book
You can order the book on Amazon, or Etsy, or find it in stores like The Red Balloon in Saint Paul, and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts in Minneapolis. For a full list of brick and mortar stores, check here.

About the Creators
T.D. Smith is a writer, software engineer, and heavy metal enthusiast who would like you to know that engineering and art have more in common than you might think. Realizing there weren't any children's books that described what he did all day, he wrote Goodnight Server Room to introduce his two (soon to be three) little boys to software engineering.

Goodnight Server Room was made possible by some amazing KickStarter backers!

The artwork for Goodnight Server Room is by Minnesota artist Emily Krueger.

Andamio Games is a Minnesota ed-tech startup best known for the collaborative neuroscience education game iNeuron. Andamio has developed a platform called FORGE, app building software for non-programmers who need to build their own apps quickly. FORGE was used to create this game.

Question and Answer, with Tyler Smith and Adam Gordon
Q. Are there any ads in the game?
A. No! The game has no ads, links, pop-ups, or noises.

Q. What was the most fun part of building the game?
A. (T.D.) My favorite moment was the first time I saw the little packets proudly shouting the names of binary operators.
A. (Andamio) Tyler came to us with everything: incredible art, beautiful layouts, and several ideas for game play. So we got to spend more time playing around with “stealth” learning games - figuring out fun and intuitive ways to teach binary without the reader knowing they’re being taught at all.

Q. What was the hardest part of building the game?
A. (T.D.) It took a few iterations for us to figure out how to present binary arithmetic to a second grade level audience. We wanted to have a minimal requirement for reading, so we had to visually illustrate the goals and teach the user what to expect.
 A. (Andamio) Creating interactions that worked for both toddlers and their parents. Two different audiences who interact with devices in completely different ways. How can we design something that “works” for both?

Q. How long did it take to build the game?
A. (T.D.) I just had to provide a presentation with the artwork and game ideas. Andamio generated the game with FORGE. We tested an initial version on the game with a class of second graders at Meadowbrook Elementary. They gave helpful feedback that we worked into the final version. Coordination with Andamio was easy because we could just email PowerPoint files back and forth.
A. (Andamio) The first iteration took about 8 hours - this got us quickly to a prototype, so we could start iterating on the game play. It’s hard to know if a game will work until you put it in the hands of your intended audience. Probably another few days, all told, iterating and improving.

Q. What are your goals for the game?
A. (T.D.) Most of the game is designed to help kids from first to fourth grade learn about introductory computer concepts. However, the programming part of the game is designed specifically for my two year old. You’ll see why when you try it.
A. (Andamio) Goodnight Server Room really demonstrates the power of FORGE, our app development platform. I’m neither a computer programmer nor an instructional designer, but I was pressed into service because our key people were swamped with other projects. And even with some rookie mistakes we were working with an iOS prototype in about a day.

Q. What’s next?
A. (T.D.) I’m working on a longer story in the same vein as Goodnight Server Room. My kids are getting older, so this next book is aimed at the three to five age range (it is about one thousand words).
A. (Andamio) We’re talking to some other children’s book authors, and several businesses interested in making their new employee on-boarding and training more interactive and engaging. Our goal is to make FORGE a turnkey, web-based service, so we’re talking to as many people as we can to make sure our vision matches with the problems they’re trying to solve.

Andamio Games Unveils Virtual Biology Lab

Twin Cities high school life science teachers take part in NSF-supported Focus Group

Minneapolis, Minnesota: Educational technology start-up Andamio Games conducted the first of a series of focus groups and classroom trials to determine the effectiveness and ease-of-use of CellEnergy, a new app designed to help high school students learn photosynthesis, and master related scientific practices.

The focus group was conducted as part of a $728,000 National Science Foundation Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant which supports the development a collaborative, virtual lab environment for mobile devices that will help students learn difficult-to-teach STEM subjects.

Participating teachers were drawn mainly from the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Public School districts, and represented a range of experience from 4 to 14 years in the classroom. They reviewed an outline of the challenge-based curriculum, then tested a prototype of a biology class virtual lab, as well as an interactive lab report with digital graphing capability. According to Barbara Billington, STEM Education faculty member at the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development and member of Andamio’s team, “The virtual labs were extremely well received, especially how they empower students to design and run their own experiments.”

"The response by these teachers just underscores the need and desire for tools that support active learning in the classroom," says Andamio Games president Adam Gordon. "Since the beginning of this project, we have relied on teachers to tell us where we got it right and wrong, and what we can do better to help them integrate this transformative technology into the flow of their classroom instruction."

Future groups will test additional International Baccalaureate (IB)- and Advanced Placement (AP)-level curriculum that include collaborative challenges on the scientific method and a dashboard for teachers that provides real-time feedback to guide instruction. The project will culminate in a classroom-based study next fall and the launching of the completed app on mobile platforms.

About Andamio Games: Andamio Games® builds mobile device apps using evidence-based teaching methods that make difficult science subjects more engaging and easier to learn. Through a combination of scaffolded lessons, challenge-based assessments, virtual labs, and collaborative problem solving, Andamio designs classroom and workplace instruction that is interactive, fun, and effective.

Andamio Games Receives Phase II SBIR Award from NSF

Grant supports development of a virtual lab and collaborative games to teach cell biology

Minneapolis, Minnesota: Educational technology innovator Andamio Games has been awarded a $728,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation to support the development of collaborative games and a virtual lab environment for mobile devices that will help high school students learn difficult-to-teach STEM subjects.

The funding will underwrite a research project that brings together accomplished application development engineers from Andamio Games and local experts in biology instruction, learning science, and usability design. This team will design a series of tablet-based lessons and challenges to help high school students master concepts related to photosynthesis and cell respiration. Additional innovations funded by the grant include a virtual lab environment, the integration and analysis of real-world climate data, and classroom tools for teachers so they can differentiate instruction between General Biology and AP-level classes.

Andamio Games will partner with life science teachers from Saint Paul Public Schools to conduct a classroom study in the second year of the project. Lessons will be designed and research directed by leading science educators at the University of Minnesota, including: Sehoya Cotner, Associate Professor of Biology; Dr. Barbara Billington of the STEM Education Center at the College of Education and Human Development; and Christopher Desjardins, Research Associate at the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement.

Andamio Games’ patented method of mobile device collaboration is the cornerstone innovation that makes the NSF-funded project possible. The technology builds on the most recent thinking in educational psychology, affording teachers the ability to provide appropriately individualized instruction without separating students into ability-based groups.

“Science teacher feedback in Phase I of the project reconfirmed the value of our multi-player approach and also led us to the addition of a virtual biology lab,” says Andamio Games president Adam Gordon. “Teachers wanted their students to get a practical experience of scientific experimentation — including when it doesn't go quite as expected — independent of the usual costs and time commitments for conventional lab experiments.”

Andamio Games’ first product, iNeuron, is a collaborative mobile device game designed to help teachers improve neuroscience education in high-school biology and psychology classrooms. Version 2 has been downloaded over 85,000 times since its release in June, and was the subject of a year-long classroom evaluation study that will be published later this year.

About Andamio Games: Andamio Games® builds evidence-based mobile device games to make hard-to-learn subjects more engaging and accessible. Through a combination of scaffolded lessons, game-based assessments, interactive labs, and collaborative problem solving, Andamio aims to make classroom and workplace instruction more active, fun, and effective.

Interview with Dr. Katrina Schleisman

Katrina is the lead Instructional Designer for Andamio Games. She recently published an article on Medium.com, "How To Make A Learning Game That Works." I caught up with Katrina just before her presentation at the White House for a Department of Education meeting on learning games research.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up? My first memory is that I wanted to be a mountain climber, which is a completely unfulfilled dream. I think I knew I wanted to go into a scientific field because my dad was an engineer, and he really encouraged me in science.

How did you become interested in neuroscience? My goal in college was to have a double major in pre-med and dance, and then I actually flunked out of my first three pre-med classes of fall semester — physics, organic chemistry, and calculus. After a little soul searching I became interested in psychology for the reasons any 19-year-old would, because you want to learn more about yourself. It seemed fascinating. So the next semester I didn't sign up for any science classes — I took Intro Psych and just got hooked on it. What I liked about the idea of going to medical school was the idea of doing medical research. I wanted to understand the human body, not necessarily provide medical care, and psychology seemed like an interesting way to do that.

What was the moment when you realized psychology is science, too? As it turned out, I became a double major in psychology and philosophy, and my big internal debate was, "Am I going to go on in psychology or philosophy?" because in both disciplines you get to study the mind, just from totally different perspectives. At some point I think I realized I can still do philosophy as a psychologist, but I'm going to have evidence and data to back it up. I won't be just sitting in an armchair and dreaming about stuff. So I could still do philosophy, but it would have more rigor.

I ended up taking a course called Cognition, Computation and Brain, taught by Chad Marsolek at the UMN who studies visual cognition and memory. He was a very charismatic teacher and I was totally hooked on the aspect of psychology that studies how the mind actually works. Of course this is a philosophical question, but the fact that you could investigate this as a scientist was really fascinating.

How does your experience studying with Dr. Marsolek inform your research today? Well, as an undergraduate assistant in his lab I was assigned all the grunt work — I recruited subjects and collected data and that was pretty much it. It was a perfect introduction to research, because when you just take lecture classes you're getting "the greatest hits" — the most fascinating studies, the things that turn out great, the results that revolutionized the field. And then when you actually sit down to do the work, you realize that 80-90% of the experiments don't yield results that are interesting, that the day-to-day work of it is tedious and not at all glamorous.

You sort of need someone to walk in to your lab from an Oliver Sacks book, unable to recognize his hat or something. Exactly! The stuff we were doing was studying basic visual perception — how people recognize objects was the main question that my advisor researched. And what I realized is how narrow the focus is of any individual researcher, even though the field as a whole is doing all kinds of interesting things.

So what got you interested in learning science? After I graduated, realizing there was a time limit on my dream of being a professional dancer, I ended up dancing for the next six years. I didn't do anything related to science at all. Eventually I reconnected with Chad Marsolek, and through a quirk in timing and available funding, he recommended that I apply for a fellowship through the educational psychology department, an interdisciplinary training and research program in education sciences. To be honest, at first I didn't care that much about K-12 education; I had no background in it and, I hate to say it, no intrinsic interest. It was not the thing I thought I would end up doing. But I joined the program and met a lot of scientists who did educational research. I realized, I can do this research on memory and learning, but now I can think about what impact it might actually have on people outside of academia. In the lab I worked in we were asking really interesting questions like, "What is the structure and function of memory in the brain, how does it work, how does it connect this part of the brain to that part."

Your job as instructional designer depends on so many different disciplines: subject matter expert, lesson creator, art designer, part-time technologist, learning scientist - and for games - game theory, game mechanics, reward systems and such. What prepared you for all this? A big part of my job is understanding the big picture - and maybe this is where the philosophy comes into play - but I gravitate towards, "What's the whole, big idea of this, and how can I organize this in a way that is helpful for learning." My background in teaching helps with this, obviously, because you take a curriculum and you have to figure out how to make it interesting, what to present, what to leave out. For iNeuron, the source material was neuroscience textbooks, which are written at the college-level not the high school level, so understanding what we could leave out was crucial. We collaborate with subject matter experts who tend to be content purists, but you have to temper that with, "OK, we have two class periods with these students, what can we realistically help them learn?" If they walk away with a new understanding of major processes and ideas, if there's a detail or two that's not entirely correct, that's ok — they'll have that misconception corrected later.

This reflects how people actually learn. We don't step through information incrementally learning everything perfectly, we get the big picture, but about half of it is wrong, then we get more information that revises our understanding, and now only a quarter of it is wrong, and then we revise it again if we keep learning. Just setting someone up with a theoretical structure for a topic is really valuable, even if part of it is wrong because you don't have time to get all the details right the first time around.

You just completed classroom research on iNeuron, first in pilot studies last fall, then in a randomized controlled study this past winter and spring. What did you learn about the teachers who took part in the study? The teachers we recruited for the iNeuron study had all taken part in BrainU, a program conceived and led by Janet Dubinsky in the neuroscience department at the University of Minnesota since about 2000. It's a professional development workshop for middle and high school science teachers that teaches them how understanding neuroscience can inform the practice of teaching and learning. I helped coordinate and teach BrainU in the run-up to the study, and I was impressed by how motivated those teachers were to sacrifice two weeks of their summer to study neuroscience with everything else they have to do.

And after being in an academic environment where we think, "Here are the principles; go use them," I would hear the teachers come back and say, "What do you mean — I have to use this? This student didn't eat breakfast this morning, this student missed class the last two days, this student doesn't speak English very well," and there are just so many complex concerns that they have to negotiate every day. Asking teachers to suddenly apply this exciting new neuroscience finding in their lessons is sort of ridiculous. So I started to appreciate the complexity of trying to translate the research into practice.

Were their unexpected discoveries arising from the study? I was pleasantly surprised by how many students really cared about solving the challenges and getting the points. Just the inherent motivation of a game, a game by the way that covered a complex topic, and that for most students wasn't part of their core curriculum. A large percentage were raising hands — "Hey, I'm stuck, can you help me with this?" — even though it didn't count towards their grade.

What has stood out for you as you have reviewed other scientists' learning games research? It’s hard, there’s such a wide variety in the quality of published research on learning games that there's not a clear set of principles rising up from it. Each researcher's game is specific, and they are mostly trying to find out if their game works, not trying to extract general principles of games for learning. I just read a review and meta-analysis from 2015 by Douglas Clark and colleagues — he works with a really good group at Vanderbilt.

I was struck by their finding that visual realism and story depth didn't significantly predict efficacy. This is a little counterintuitive because the sense that I get from the field of learning game design is that we're all pushing toward games that look like the games kids play at home, and if we did that, they'd be better learning games. But they didn't find significant effects of, for instance, having a rich visual environment.

They also found an advantage overall for individual play versus group play. This is surprising because there's a whole body of research on peer learning, on why learning things in groups is advantageous, so it makes me wonder if we just haven't hit on the right way to do group games, or maybe we're limited by the technology or something else, because I would have expected the opposite. When we measured knowledge gains with the iNeuron study, we also didn't find a specific advantage to group play over individual play, although the students and teachers I worked with in the classroom seemed to really engage with it.

What games did you play as a kid? I played a lot of board games growing up with my family. Trivial Pursuit and Taboo, and my mom loved Scrabble. I saved up my allowance money and bought the original NES [Nintendo Entertainment System] Console and I played hours and hours of Super Mario 3 and Tetris and Doctor Mario. I didn't keep up with it — until the Wii came out, I wasn't really interested in Call of Duty, RPG shooter games — those aren't really made for me.

I have read and heard a number of times now, "If kids sniff out this is an education game, they won't want to play it." Maybe the point is they won't want to play it outside of school?... Right. And honestly, I think that is a really lofty goal. The idea that a kid is going to go running to an educational game instead of playing Minecraft or Halo or whatever. That's a tall order. Instead, would you rather play this educational game, or read this textbook chapter? The comparison should be other educational curriculum tools, not games out in the real world. I don't think we'll ever win that competition if our objective is teaching difficult-to-learn science concepts in the classroom.

You write music and sing in an Alt-Country Bluegrass duo. How does that inform your work? I couldn't be a scientist if I wasn’t also an artist. They support each other completely because they are totally different ways of thinking and doing things. If you're just one sided in your thinking, you don't have that flexibility. So all the things I do creatively — which I never really thought would matter in a "science" job — are required for designing games.

So, should I title this interview "The Left and Right Brain Hemispheres of Katrina Schleisman: How Logic and Creativity Come Together..."? Like most of the colloquialisms about the brain, this one just isn't true. It's like the movie Lucy: what if all of a sudden you could use all of your brain. Well, you do already.

I think what makes me grind my teeth and laugh at the same time is how much people think we understand about the brain, and so it gives screenwriters license to create these really outrageous plot scenarios almost like we can read peoples' minds. One of the exciting and frustrating parts of studying psychology and the brain is realizing how much we are in the infancy of it, and how far away we are from understanding even the most basic parts of human thinking.

iNeuron® Version 2 Released on the App Store

We are pleased to announce the release of a completely re-designed version of iNeuron.

After the success of iNeuron-EFT with over 50,000 downloads, we developed this new version from scratch to provide a more engaging experience on the iPad. It represents 5 years of research and development, input from multiple teacher focus groups, extensive pilot and efficacy studies involving over 1,000 students in 35 classrooms, and an extraordinary partnership effort with neuroscientists, instructional designers and teaching experts at the University of Minnesota. And all of this was made possible by a major, multi-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health and our generous Kickstarter backers.

Here's what's new in iNeuron:

More Levels, More Games
Based on feedback from teachers and students, players are now taken on an exploration of neuroscience with more lessons and more circuit-building challenge games. The distinct new design and revamped layouts have received praise from teachers and students alike.

It's Personal This Time
Players choose a role - basketball player, violinist, chemist - and throughout the game learn the relevant neural pathways involved in accomplishing key tasks.

Get it Together, People!
The multi-player challenges emerged as the group favorite in our pioneer classrooms. We improved the user interface, expanded the number circuit-building games, and included "Individual Play" and "Group Play" modes at every level.

My Favorite Subject Was Recess
In the original game, the free play section was a favorite destination for many student players, really taking us by surprise. In this new version, we provide additional free play opportunities, with mini-challenges and more pieces and thresholds to tinker with.

Coming Soon: the Andamio Dashboard for Teachers
This version of iNeuron can be downloaded for free, and everybody can play the first two levels in their entirety (including the essential "Neurons & Nerves" and "Flex Biceps"), with full functionality, including group play. Subsequent levels are unlocked with an in-app purchase. For classroom play, teachers will be able to unlock an entire classroom of iNeuron with the Andamio Dashboard for less than $30. It will also give them the ability to customize content, monitor class and individual progress, and generate performance reports.

Download and play iNeuron and tell us what you think. Teacher and student feedback is what made iNeuron what it is today.