BUFFALO, NY, JUNE 19 – Immersed Games has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to expand their educational video game, Tyto Online, which helps middle school educators teach science content, as well as science and engineering skills.
In Tyto Online, the student experience includes activities like building ecosystems to learn about ecology or breeding dragons to learn about heredity. In the game, students play as Earth evacuees who have just woken up from four years of cryosleep. After the perilous journey to the planet Ovo, they are enrolling at the illustrious Tyto Academy as student scientists. They must help the other Tyto scientists learn everything they can about their new planet, in the hopes that this knowledge can one day be used to restore the Earth.
An NSF Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant of $746,721 was awarded to Immersed Games to support the build of a Tyto Online expansion called Expeditions, in which students will team up to explore a troubled ecosystem. Students will engage with the scientific method, first collecting data and generating graphs, then creating hypotheses about what may be causing the problem. This could be a virus, water pollution, parasites, or one of many other ecosystem-destabilizing issues, each requiring students to utilize different science content knowledge. After coming to a consensus about the problem, students will take part in the engineering process, during which they will suggest and test solutions, collect more data, and recommend the best way to resolve the problem.
In an initial pilot test, students who played the new Expeditions module demonstrated a statistically significant 12% increase in science and engineering practices such as asking questions, analyzing and interpreting data, and defining problems for engineering.
“The aim of Expeditions is for it to be used as a tool to improve students’ science and engineering practices, providing an authentic scientific problem-solving experience,” said Lindsey Tropf, founder and CEO of Immersed Games. “Students who use problem-based learning like this are more likely to use science as a tool for problem solving in their lives – something essential for 21st century decisions we all need to make.”
“The National Science Foundation supports startups and small businesses with the most innovative, cutting-edge ideas that have the potential to become great commercial successes and make huge societal impacts,” said Graciela Narcho, Acting Director of the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at NSF. “We hope that seed funding will spark solutions to some of the most important challenges of our time across all areas of science and technology.”
Immersed Games moved to Buffalo after becoming a winner of the 43North startup competition. For their Phase II work, the Immersed Games team will be working with Western New York students and teachers to improve the product, and will conduct a research study to measure effectiveness. As a result, they will have a variety of opportunities for local schools to participate, from their teams taking part in early prototype testing to schools or districts receiving the full product for free in exchange for participating in the research study. Participating teachers are given free product access, professional development, and in-person support. Their students also gain insight into the process of video game development and the interesting STEM careers involved, with Immersed Games team members visiting the classroom and answering student questions. Interested schools should contact Lindsey Tropf at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Buffalo Academy of Science is the first local school to volunteer to participate in testing locally. The Immersed Games team spent two days in the classroom, where they answered questions about game development, had students test game updates, and then gave students a quick survey to provide feedback. The developers then use this feedback to iterate and improve the product.
“This could not have come at a better time, as New York State is just starting to implement the Next Generation Science Standards and moving to problem-based learning,” said Douglas Borzynski, the STEM Coordinator at the Buffalo Academy of Science. “Tyto Online is a wonderful method for a 21st-century learning environment. Students are instantly drawn into the world, and whether they are experienced gamers or not, Tyto quickly puts students in charge of their learning and discovering answers for authentic challenges. Working with my science teachers, we were easily able to adapt Tyto online into our 5th and 6th-grade science classrooms, and look forward to more from Tyto Online to help supplement my STEM curriculum.”
In addition to opportunities for schools, individual Western New York families with children ages 9 to 14 years old will also have the chance to take part in the Expeditions early stage product testing process. Parents can sign up to participate at https://www.tytoonline.com/playtestingsignup
About Immersed Games: Immersed Games is harnessing the engaging power of video games to create a next generation STEM learning platform. Their flagship product, Tyto Online, is a video game for middle school students to learn science content and skills. The student experience includes activities like building ecosystems to learn ecology or breeding dragons to learn heredity. The company has sold over 28,000 copies of their smaller first product, received grants from the National Science Foundation and Department of Education, and was recently awarded investment from the 43North program.
To learn more about Immersed Games, visit: www.immersedgames.com
To learn more about Tyto Online, visit: www.tytoonline.com
About the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Programs: America’s Seed Fund powered by the National Science Foundation (NSF) awards nearly $200 million annually to startups and small businesses, transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial and societal impact. Startups working across almost all areas of science and technology can receive up to $1.5 million in non-dilutive funds to support research and development (R&D), helping de-risk technology for commercial success. America’s Seed Fund is congressionally mandated through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The NSF is an independent federal agency with a budget of about $8.4 billion that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.
To learn more about the NSF SBIR/STTR program, visit: seedfund.nsf.gov.