When a game encourages exploration and discovery two major classroom problems arise. 1) “Discovery” takes time and can be viewed as inefficient or “time off task”. 2) Depending on the environment, some interactions while exploring can be viewed as “wrong” requiring unlearning with respect to the “real” curriculum.

For example: Students were put in control of cells inside a simulation/game of the AIDS virus. Because it’s designed as a cool looking game, kids feel the freedom to explore (time off task). As kids were exploring they found little exploits in the game. They found that they could hide behind other cells to avoid being killed by dangerous pathogens. They could even herd bigger cells and use those cells as blockers to take on a lot of damage before discarding them and reaching their objectives. Those actions don’t happen in the body! What’s real here? What needs to be unlearned for the test? Are kids confused?

Unfortunately initial push back is great when current curricula are packed with topics and items kids must know for standardized testing. There is not a lot of extra time in the classroom period.

Yet letting students explore and exploit the game gave them a bigger picture of the system. They think outside the box because they aren’t even in the box to begin with! They began thinking strategically about what to do and how to stop the invading force. Later, as they learn how the body actually works, they begin to think “why not” and “what if” as they wonder about cures for diseases.

Reality Update: Current scientists are working on a cure for cancer by genetically modifying T-cells to hunt cancer cells. T-cells don’t naturally do this. But now they do…

Conclusion: If we are going to create discovery based learning in complex environments that truly support 21st century learning, we’ll have to begin outside the classroom where time and testing results aren’t the constraints. Knoverse is designing a “flipped gaming” model for school and classroom integration.