STEP 3: IDENTIFY THE SCIENCE EDUCATION PROBLEMS THAT NEED SOLUTIONS
The NRC (2011) identified several problems in science education that may potentially be addressed by inclusion of games in science curricula. The first problem is attracting and retaining individuals into science careers. The workforce requires professionals trained in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). For decades there has been a declining interest in STEM careers, a high dropout rate from STEM majors, and a lack of diversity among STEM professionals (e.g., NRC, 2012). The second problem concerns the scientific literacy of everybody else. We live in a scientifically and technologically advanced culture, so many personal, professional, and public policy decisions require an understanding of the concepts, processes, and nature of science. We witness the consequences of scientific illiteracy when we consider, for example, climate change denial, antivaccination lobbying, end-of-world prophesies, and school boards voting to include creationism in the science curriculum (to name only a few). The apparent “antiscience” sentiments of citizens and misinformed politicians are alarming to scientists and educators. Therefore, changes are needed in how science is taught to make it clear that science is relevant for all.
If we buy the argument that science is a necessary component of modern education for all citizens, the next problem involves how best to teach it across the curriculum. The natural, social, and physical sciences all include abstract phenomena that may be difficult to visualize and represent because of magnitude, time scales, or complexity. Video games and computer simulations have enormous potential to help address the problem of communicating abstract concepts. Science educators are also faced with the problem of teaching students a number of challenging cognitive and metacognitive thinking skills that are required for conducting research. Although claims about “scientists in the crib” have been made, decades of research on the development of scientific thinking show a long slow trajectory that requires educational scaffolding (Zimmerman, 2000, 2007; Klahr, Zimmerman, & Jirout, 2011). Professionals in STEM careers are immersed in disciplinary training for years to overcome the cognitive heuristics and biases that may work well enough for everyday problem solving. Finally, science educators recognize that students should be exposed to learning experiences that reflect how authentic science is conducted and communicated. The problem is how best to engage students in authentic inquiry and argumentation that is developmentally appropriate (NRC, 2011).