Breaking SPORE: Building Instructional Value in Science Education using a Commercial, Off-the Shelf Game

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This investigation explored an alternative method of technology integration and ways to enable educators to judiciously use a wider range of games in their classrooms. Although many games have been created with educational objectives in mind (e.g., Quest Atlantis, Immune Attack, Democracy), proportionally fewer games and simulations are linked to scientific content and standards. More importantly, wildly popular and widely available entertainment-based games with educational components (i.e., edutainment) do not necessarily promote scientific understanding. Generally the purpose of games is entertainment. However, issues may arise if they are marketed as promoting or having a strong basis in content. In this study, we examine the simulation game Spore, which exhibits flawed scientific assumptions and may promote numerous misconceptions if used “as is” with students. We examine how a simple pedagogical adjustment to in a middle school science class may overcome the existing and designed limitations while yielding learning benefits. Specifically, we observe Spore’s influence on students’ conceptual understanding of natural selection when compared to a control group. The findings contribute to a growing body of literature that provides teachers with alternative methods for judicious technology integration, particularly with respect to the affordances of games and simulations like Spore.