Andamio Welcomes Erin Lease for Graduate Research Fellowship

Erin Lease, a PhD student in Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota, will be joining Andamio Games this summer as part of a Graduate Research Fellowship sponsored by the University.

Erin is interested in exploring ways to use technology to build cost-effective, scalable solutions for closing opportunity gaps in education and health. She has experience implementing and evaluating effective programs in schools and implementing innovative strategies to improve school readiness and achievement.

Erin has seen the power of how games can engage students in learning and is interested in building collaborations between educators and developers to build games that are both educational and engaging.  Throughout the course of her experience in intervention and research, Erin has seen firsthand the way that technology can transform a classroom: “It’s hard to deny that there is something special about the way that games motivate student learning. I believe that, as educators, we have to be better at integrating technology into effective programs and practices in order to engage students.”

In addition to learning about the creative process at Andamio Games, Erin will be exploring strategies in analyzing game analytics and outcomes, commercializing educational technology, and exploring aspects of engaging game design. Stay tuned for products of Erin’s research.

Teacher Tech Jam

Ed-tech Companies are frequently admonished to receive teacher input at every stage of their product design process. This recommendation is so obvious that it barely merits mentioning, but in practice it is anything but easy. Teachers like everyone else are extremely busy, only more so, and asking a teacher to interrupt her classroom time to try out new technology is usually a bridge too far.

This is why we conceived Teacher Tech Jam. We wanted to devise an event where entrepreneurs and innovators could get their products into the hands of teachers in an informal setting that facilitated meaningful feedback.

Last June we attended a gathering of teachers hosted by Peter Kirwin and Ellie Roscher of Nudge Education. Peter and Ellie assembled a group of teachers to experience the classroom collaboration tools he had created, Whudent and Wevaluate. We were struck by the relaxed and lively atmosphere, and how it generated incredibly candid and actionable feedback.

Steve Walvig, The Bakken's director of education, Tour Guide Extraordinaire

Steve Walvig, The Bakken's director of education, Tour Guide Extraordinaire

Then in July we attended GLS11, the games and learning conference held every summer in Madison. This remarkable assemblage of researchers, teachers, education companies and game developers further impressed upon us the crucial role teachers needed to play in shaping our games for the classroom. We also met Seann Dikkers, a nationally respected researcher in games and learning, who we discovered was returning to the Twin Cities to chair the Education Department at Bethel University.

Enter Educelerate North. From its earliest stages, Andamio Games has been involved with this MeetUp group, founded by Steve Wellvang and co-organized with Steve Mesmer. Educelerate North has built a reputation for delivering compelling and useful sessions, and we recognized the power of its mission to nurture the ed-tech ecosystem in the Twin Cities.

Once we added the possibility of educators earning technology CEUs (credit hours required for re-licensure), the idea for the Teacher Tech Jam event received strong very strong support, indeed.

Party like it's the mid-1700s

Party like it's the mid-1700s

Here's how the event came together:

  • Educelerate North invited us to organize under their banner; this gave us access to their membership and online registration, and they provided a catered meal from Be'wiched (thanks to their sponsors, Capstone and Capella).
  • The Bakken Museum donated the superb meeting space, and Director of Education Steve Walvig conducted a private tour, introducing many teachers for the first time to this incredible gem of a museum.
  • Seann Dikkers of Bethel University provided additional incentive to attending teachers by managing and issuing technology CEUs for their participation.
  • Jenny Severson of Quantum Learning kicked off the workshop with an active session that modeled best practices for social-emotional learning in the classroom.
  • Local teacher-preneurs Peter Kirwin (Nudge Education) and Matt Nupen (DocentEDU) introduced attendees to their remarkably useful web-based classroom technologies.
  • Adam Gordon (Andamio Games) led three sessions where attendees were handed iPads, played the latest version of their neuroscience game, iNeuron, and provided feedback on the group play mode.
  • And extraordinary local app developer Sean Berry (Algebra Touch) closed out the event with a compelling personal history of his journey to building educational apps, and a demo of his captivating math game, Algebra Touch.

For the organizers, the energy and enthusiasm were particularly gratifying, and the especially the strong cohort of teachers and students exceeded our hopes for the evening. The relationships that emerge out of events like this can become the engine of growth and innovation around ed-tech in the Twin Cities. We're already planning Teacher Tech Jam 2: we'll take the lessons learned from our inaugural installment, invite more teachers and a new batch of technology companies, and deliver an even more interactive and spirited workshop. Stay tuned!

Matt Nupen, Karin Hogen and Ben Pederson of DocentEDU

Matt Nupen, Karin Hogen and Ben Pederson of DocentEDU

Andamio Games Wins NSF Award

Andamio Games Wins National Science Foundation Award

Grant supports the development of the next generation of collaborative games that will help students learn cell biology and other difficult-to-teach STEM subjects

Minneapolis, Minnesota: Educational technology innovator Andamio Games has been awarded a $150,000 Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation to support the development of collaborative games for mobile devices that help 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 students master difficult concepts in high-school and college biology curricula. Groups of students will use the game collaboratively, working in concert to model complex biological processes. The project will initially focus on cell respiration and photosynthesis.

Research will be conducted in partnership with leading science educators at the University of Minnesota, including Sehoya Cotner, Professor of Biology, and Barbara Billington, Professor of STEM Education at the College of Education and Human Development.

Andamio Games’ newly patented method of enabling collaboration among students using mobile devices is the 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. “Teachers tell us that our approach to multi-player, cooperative challenges engages students and sets the stage for peer learning like no other app they have tried,” says Adam Gordon, Director of Educational Outreach.

Andamio Games’ first app, with over 50,000 downloads, is iNeuron, a collaborative game designed to help teachers improve neuroscience education in high-school biology and psychology classrooms. Version 2, which is currently undergoing classroom evaluation, will be available early next year.

About Andamio Games:

Andamio Games® builds standards-based mobile device games to make difficult foundational STEM concepts more engaging and attainable. Through a combination of scaffolded lessons, game-based assessments, and collaborative problem solving, Andamio aims to make classroom science instruction more active, fun, and effective. To learn more, visit the website at

11 Lessons About Game-based Learning in STEM Fields

(11 Lessons About Game-based Learning in STEM Fields by Christine Byrd was originally published on the MIND Research Institute Blog.)

In case you missed the recent STEMconnector townhall on “Leveraging Game-based Learning to Increase STEM Engagement,” here are 11 lessons we learned from the teachers, students, game-designers, philanthropists and experts who participated.


1. Games are already ubiquitous

Edie Fraser, CEO of STEMconnector, pointed out that 4 out of 5 American households currently have a gaming device, according to a recent study (ESA, 2015). “We know that game-based learning is revolutionizing learning in school and out of school and ... keeping kids engaged, so it is exciting.”

2. Games prepare students for careers in the STEM fields

The kind of problem solving required in STEM careers bears a strong resemblance to certain skills fostered by gaming, pointed out Nigel Nisbet, a former teacher and MIND Research Institute’s Vice President of Content Creation. “I think one of the things that’s important to realize is that, for people facing challenges in STEM careers, those challenges don’t switch off, it’s not like a textbook you can close and then go home. When you’re faced with a challenge it’s something that you really need to be immersed in in order to solve and games provide that immersive opportunity for problem solving that you just can’t replicate anywhere else.”

3. Kids like the “hard fun” of gaming

Game designers use the term “hard fun” to describe experiences that are simultaneously enjoyable and difficult. “That’s really why we play games in general, whether it’s a video game or basketball or chess,” said Gregg Toppo, USA Today’s education reporter and author of The Game Believes in You. “We’re both having fun and doing something that’s really challenging.”

“If there’s any sort of theme to [The Game Believes in You], it’s that ... games have the potential to make school both enjoyable and also really challenging for this generation and also for generations to come.”

4. Games help introduce above grade-level concepts

Becky Renegar, who specializes in gifted education in Piqua Central Intermediate School in Piqua, Ohio, extolled the benefits of using online games to provide challenges for her above-grade level students. Additionally, groups of her students developed their own games in the National K-12 Game-a-thon, which provided rich opportunities for advancing their mathematical skills.

“Many times they’re motivated to learn new math as the need arises,” she said. “For example, I had two students who designed a skeeball machine for their game and in order to do that they had to determine the slope of the ramp. So we looked at the Pythagorean theorem – and these are third graders!”

5. Games reduce fear of failure

Incorporating game-based learning into her math program helped teacher Shannon Duncan at McPherson Magnet School eliminate the word “failure” from her class. “Real failure is simply in the never trying,” she said.

For more on the importance of failure, check out our blog “The Best Lesson: Learning from Failure.”

6. Games encourage a growth mindset

In games, everyone is capable of completing the level and moving forward in the game. Growth-mindset is the recognition that intelligence is not a fixed attribute, anyone can learn and grow. Middle school math teacher Shannon Duncan said game-based learning had been a “huge catalyst” to helping her students embrace a growth mindset. “Having that growth mindset with math is the only way we’re going to get our kids on the higher level.”

7. Games can be used across the curriculum

Shannon Duncan described using Minecraft to ask a student this question: How would you use blocks to build the White House in Minecraft?

“Our kids who traditionally struggle will find that they really excel with these types of questions. Even though it’s using math skills they’re using something they love and that’s the video game playing,” she explained. “We use this as a catalyst to kind of get them sucked into our world, if you will, which helps us because it empowers them to understand that there’s really math in everything you do.”

8. Don’t just play games – create your own!

Uma, mother of the 6-year-old coder, said all kids are interested in gaming, and most kids are natural problem solvers from a young age. When her son Kedar wanted to play his dad’s Wii nonstop, she decided to have him create his own games for it. “It occurred to me that as long as a child can read, they can do programming.”

Similarly, teacher Shannon Duncan said she has used everything from monopoly to dominos as educational games in her classroom. “Game based learning is what you make of it and what you manipulate the game to become.”

For examples of student-created math games including board games, card games, floor mats, and computer programs, view the National K-12 Game-a-thon’s Hall of Fame.

9. Gaming knows no age limits

From the delightfully precocious home-schooled six-year-old who loves games so much that he codes his own to the father of grown children who’s written the book on gaming – everyone in the Townhall had experienced true joy and delight with educational games.

10. Corporate philanthropy community supports game-based learning

PricewaterhouseCooper’s Eileen Buckley explained how their overarching strategy these past years and beyond includes partnering with MIND:  “[PwC is] moving more into the digital space. We appreciate how effective learning through games has proven to be, and so we’re investing heavily in innovation through technology and digital based tools.”

11. You can be both a mathematician and bibliophile

Twelve-year-old New Jersey student Jemma, who created the game Crop Computation in last year’s Game-a-thon, said she’s interested in a career in biology or computer science, yet her favorite subject is English. Would it be okay to go to college and double major in math and something like Russian literature, she wondered aloud?  But MIND’s Nigel Nisbet told her not to worry: CEO and co-founder of MIND Research Institute, Matthew Peterson, triple majored in Chinese literature and language, biology and engineering. After all, college -- like game-based learning -- is what you make of it.

Interested in hearing more? Watch the entire townhall:

Interested in learning about the ST Math game-based learning program for K-12 schools? Request more information:

Christine Byrd is a communications manager for MIND Research Institute, and parent of two game-loving kids.

Making Brain Science Accessible

Greg Gage (and lab partner Tim Marzullo) started Backyard Brains in order to design affordable equipment to help students learn and participate in neuroscientific discovery.

I had the privilege of meeting their assorted band of science geeks and committed educators at this year's NSTA conference, and was connected by electrodes to a skeptical and wary teacher in exactly the way they demonstrate in this TED talk demonstration. If they are exhibiting at a conference you attend, make sure you stop by for a fun and fascinating hands-on learning experience.

Applying Games in Education to Teach STEM

Researchers Turn Games in Education into STEM Teaching Tools

By Ivan Kuo

It’s the scene of a crime, set in some indeterminate time in the future. Forensic experts, computer experts, and scientists fill the scene. You are one of them. Your job is to gather clues and recover data from a top-secret research project that somehow goes wrong. It sounds like the plot of a movie. But in fact, it’s a game called Max5 and it’s another example of games being used in education, this time, for teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – the so-called “STEM” fields.

The education aspect of Max5 comes from its use of concepts in processing, visualizing, and analyzing biological data to teach about bioinformatics. The game simulates scientific IT tools, such as the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool, also called BLAST, to find DNA sequence matches in a database. The game also teaches players to manage computer resources.

Max5 comes from the Human Centered Design and Engineering Department, a research group at the University of Washington that develops games intended to help prepare students for science and engineering degrees and careers. Game developers say that they want to encourage cyber problem solving in students, particularly in underrepresented minorities and women. Male and female high school students participated in all aspects of game development, even contributing some programming code.

“We found that many of the unique elements of the game and our focus on integrating different styles of play resulted from this unique collaboration with the teenagers,” the developers explain in a grant project report.

The game’s development was funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Developers say that the game could help reverse declining student interest in the STEM fields. Also, the game could help shore up science education at a time of shrinking school budgets that cut into support for science education. Those declining resources make it difficult for teachers to give students on-on-one time. The advantage of Max5 is that the game can engage students in scientific concepts without needing a teacher present.

Re-posted from Gamification Co with permission by Ivan Kuo

How to Make a Great Learning Game

Last fall we started work on our next generation of iNeuron. The first version of the game had enjoyed an enthusiastic reception from teachers, we had collected important feedback on content and user experience from our initial round of classroom research, Apple had released a new development environment for the iPad, and we had been successfully awarded Phase II SBIR funding from the NIH.

Initial classroom testing commences later this spring and will continue in earnest through the summer and into the new school year.

At the same time we began thinking about our next educational game. What comes after iNeuron? We started brainstorming about different STEM subjects where we could turn our focus. The conversation included how best to meet the needs of the underserved high school market, which subjects would be most amenable to our collaborative mobile-game approach, and what concepts are both critical to learn and most challenging to cover from an instructional standpoint.

In the middle of our discussion, our lead scientist interjected, "It's not enough to digitize content. We have to do something that justifies putting it on a mobile device." Reflecting back on it now, this key insight seems obvious, but at the time I considered it to be novel and significant, so much so that I tweeted it:

Being the newest member of the team, and getting ready to meet with teachers who I was going to try to convince to download and play iNeuron, I had to ask the question from the teachers’ perspective: How do mobile device games make sense in the science classroom?

Asking this question wasn't just an academic exercise. It is no small feat creating any curriculum that is engaging, educationally effective, affordable to cash-strapped school districts, and easily adopted and implemented by teachers. We know that teachers are quickly adopting mobile devices, and we know that mobile devices can engage and inform in ways that other kinds of curriculum delivery can't. But what specifically will make our mobile games work in ways that other kinds of teaching don't?

The specific things we do here at Andamio Games are a combination of solid pedagogy and smart classroom implementation. Here’s our recipe (so far):

  • Build for Secondary Students: Design a high school curriculum that also challenges first year college students and is within reach of industrious middle schoolers.
  • Align with Standards: Enable teachers to hit state and nationally prescribed learning targets.
  • Scaffold the Instruction: Promote mastery and deeper long-term learning with appropriate supports and carefully timed encouragement.
  • Test with Feedback: Reinforce new knowledge and bolster long-term retention with high-frequency, low-stakes quizzes.
  • Increase Student Engagement: Promote active, inquiry-based learning with a problem solving approach that leaves strategy and timing open-ended.
  • Pilot with Teachers: Limit instructional overhead by incorporating teacher feedback into the design.
  • Leverage Opportunities for Collaboration: At every moment facilitate the best possible peer learning.
  • Focus on STEM Games: Stick to our core expertise, and foster curiosity in science through a hands-on, constructivist approach.

In the coming blogposts, we hope to start a conversation with you as we delve into some of these ingredients in more detail. We have our own ideas about what makes a really effective learning game, and teachers' enthusiastic response to iNeuron suggests we might be doing some things right. But we're smart enough to know that we don't know everything. That's why we want to hear from you -- classroom teachers, home educators, administrators and students. In your experience, what's the best possible use of learning games in education? What makes mobile ed-tech worth having?