Associate Professor Jessica Hunt shares the benefits of inclusive learning and play through national webinars

Over the past two years, NC State College of Education professor Jessica Hunt has developed and piloted a new curriculum that helps students with disabilities and learning difficulties understand factions while exploring career opportunities in STEM fields around the world through game-based learning. .

The game, called Dream2B, and the Mathematical Model Training Program (ModelME) were built using a three-year, $ 1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation ITEST to Hunt and investigators Matthew Marino and Michelle Taub at the University of Central Florida. . 2020

The game allows students to play as a custom champion named Bunny, who will face six different worlds related to STEM and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Challenges are available in every world through a universal interface with custom features that make the game accessible. Students are given a choice of tools to use for each problem to motivate them to use individual strategies and ways of thinking.

The game currently concludes a round of testing with teachers and students in Granville, Sampson and Durham states in North Carolina, and recently Hunt was invited to share his work on the national stage.

She will be speaking in March at the Center for Innovation, Design and Digital Learning (CIDDL) webinar “Supporting Teachers from Game Learning Environment” and on April 11 at the STEM Learning and Research Week (STELAR). entitled “Creating Inclusive STEM Opportunities for Students with Disabilities: Formal Settings”. The webinar will be available for free.

“My colleagues, Dr. Matthew Marino and Dr. Michel Taub, are very excited about the work we are doing in the Model Mathematics Education Project, and we are honored and happy to have a place to discuss what we have learned. two national venues, ”he said. “Having places to discuss work through the object of game assessment and through the object of creating comprehensive STEM opportunities for students with disabilities is related to the work we are doing with the Model ME curriculum in primary schools.”

Below, Hunt talks about his work, the importance of providing more STEM opportunities to students with disabilities and the benefits of game-based learning.

The following questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Can you share an update on where the ModelME / Dream2B project is?

We are currently in a feasibility study with a game program and educational coverage. We have partnered with nine elementary school teachers across Granville County, Sampson County and Durham County to implement this game in their classrooms. So far, 17 of the 29 lessons have been taught by teachers, and we learn a lot about how teachers use the materials, as well as student participation and teaching, in games and in the curriculum.

We hope to complete this phase of the research by focus groups by early May to learn more about teachers ’perspectives on how the ME Model supports their student learning and their understanding of student thinking. . We will also talk to students to better understand their perspective on the game. We will take all this information and analyze it for a final review of the game itself as well as the summary training program. We will test this final version in a broader experimental study next spring.

Why is it so important that more STEM opportunities are available and accessible for students with disabilities?

Persons with disabilities are not members of the STEM and ICT workforce. Students with disabilities often display unique traits that are particularly useful in STEM and ICT professions, such as a constant focus on detail, knowledge and regular procedural knowledge and skills, and the ability to conceptualize results and solve complex problems.

Students with learning disabilities (LD), in particular, are the largest subgroup of people with disabilities serving in K-12 schools. Unfortunately, these students often do not discuss careers in STEM and ICT in primary school, and the guide does not always address the unique issues of access and advancement of STEM knowledge for students with disabilities. For example, students with LD often require access to a variety of tools or objects to learn or express their STEM knowledge. They also benefit from challenges that allow for new solutions because unexpected knowledge is brought to the forefront of education. Both elements of educational design place students ’knowledge as important and valuable. Our project is working to develop empirical evidence that demonstrates how the principles of game design and an integrated curriculum help teachers to use strengths when addressing the individual needs that students bring to teaching.

What are the benefits of game-based learning for students and teachers?

Digital game-based math curricula are one way to improve student engagement as well as their learning outcomes. The results of the game study identified the potential of games to increase access to STEM content, enhance collaborative problem solving, and enable students to learn math in ways previously unimaginable for students with disabilities. Other researchers have found that students with disabilities also benefit from such training.

Our curriculum and indoor play program has been developed using the Universal Design framework for Learning (UDL) to increase our reach and engagement. by presenting conceptual understanding challenges that are rooted in the original professions of STEM and ICT. The user interface includes tutorials, suggestions for adaptation to practice, and original formative and summative assessments. Debate-based, problem-solving, and post-game discussion activities promote communication and adhere to the standards of the National Mathematics Teachers Council (NCTM).

How does the College of Education prepare future teachers to understand how and why different types of teaching (including game learning) need to be implemented for their students?

I think one of the many advantages of our college in our collaborative approach is to train teachers to understand the strengths of students and how they can use these strengths in teaching, including through the use of games, other technologies and inclusive pedagogy. . Students can interact with faculty from all areas of the program and even in all departments! The multidisciplinary nature of our work at the college provides a comprehensive toolbox for teachers to work in their classrooms.

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