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Collaborative learning game app teaches STEM subjects, runs on mobile devices, supports school curriculum, and engages students (fun!).

Picture a high school biology or psychology classroom… The subject is neuroscience…

The students are engrossed in their mobile devices, barely paying attention to the teacher.

A student suddenly yells “Woo Hoo!” and another responds “This is cool!"

A test given at the end of the day shows the students learned required curriculum topics in neuronal cells and circuits.

The teacher summarizes the experience: "Words cannot describe how awesome the test experience was with my students. For two days, I saw my students engaged, discussing, asking questions, and having fun learning.”

These quotes are real. This scene was repeated over and over again in high school classrooms as we tested iNeuron™, our new educational game for mobile devices to teach neuroscience and other Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) subjects. Every teacher in our initial evaluations of iNeuron (5 teachers, 13 classes, and 311 students so far) has asked for it.

This enthusiasm is why we are seeking Kickstarter funds. The goal of this Kickstarter project is to put iNeuron in the hands of these and other teachers through the Apple iTunes store by the 2013-14 school year.

What is iNeuron?

Example screen grab from iNeuron. See below and our video for more examples and descriptions.
Example screen grab from iNeuron. See below and our video for more examples and descriptions.

iNeuron teaches neuroscience concepts while students work alone and in groups to solve challenges with their mobile devices (iPhone/iPod (now), iPad (soon), and Windows Mobile and Android (future)). After learning a base set of concepts with iNeuron on their own, the students break into small groups. The groups compete with each other to solve circuit-building challenges.

Each student has control of some parts of the circuit they are building, but the circuit cannot be completed unless the group works together. As each student moves the parts they control, the others in the group can see what they are doing.

Kickstarter Goal

The goal of our Kickstarter project is to release iNeuron for the iPod on the iTunes store for all teachers to use for the 2013-14 school year. The funds will support the work needed to get the prototype software ready for the iTunes store and improve the documentation. Beyond the base goal, we have many more things we'd like to do – extending to other grades, enhancing the graphics, redesigning to fully use extra screen space on tablets, providing a tablet-based teacher dashboard to adapt lessons for their classroom and teaching style, translating to other languages, porting to other platforms (Android and Windows Mobile), and more.

Why Kickstarter?

The current iNeuron prototype, developed in collaboration with the University of Minnesota, was funded by a prestigious 2-year grant from the  National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) targeted at improving K-12 neuroscience education. iNeuron has been tested with over 300 high school students and an independent assessment showed an improvement in neuroscience learning (see below for more information).

Our NIH funding has ended and now it is up to us to get iNeuron into the classroom. With the help of the Kickstarter community, we can do this by the beginning of the 2013-14 school year!

We are enlisting the help of the Kickstarter community because this is exactly the sort of investment in the creative future that has made Kickstarter famous.

The teachers want it now; the Kickstarter community can give it to them.

Who are we?

We are a group of computer scientists with decades of experience solving difficult challenges and seeing the results used in the real world. Most of the time, we work at Adventium Labs, a 10-year-old research and development company that specializes in advanced software development. One of our projects was the NIMH project we mentioned above that led to the iNeuron prototype.

iNeuron’s evaluation results were so encouraging that we created a separate division, Andamio Games™, to focus on commercially developing this technology. Andamio, pronounced Ahn-DAH-mee-oh, is the Spanish word for scaffolding, the teaching principle underlying our approach to educational games. Simply put, scaffolding is tailoring student support so that the student builds on concepts they already know to build an understanding of more complex concepts.

Given students’ use of technology and gaming in their everyday lives, can you think of a better way to support their learning than to use mobile devices and gaming?

We can’t. That’s why we created iNeuron. And it’s just the beginning. iNeuron is the first of many collaborative educational games for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education we are planning to develop to bring classroom student learning into the 21st century.

Why Neuroscience?

We focus on neuroscience for several reasons. First, studies have shown that students that know how their brains work are less likely to engage in activities that hurt it (e.g., not wearing a helmet). Secondly, with the increased confidence that comes from understanding a concept, students are more likely to pursue science and technology related careers or, at the very least, not be intimidated when encountering these subjects. Third, new standards for education specifically require teaching neuroscience (e.g., Next Generation Science Standards--NGSS). Tools to help teachers adapt their lessons to these new standards are not widely available.

What makes iNeuron different?

iNeuron takes science education to a new and a different level by reimagining the traditional classroom experience using technology and a mobile game environment. Rather than the traditional teacher lecture, students are able to interact with the content in engaging ways (multi-media interactions such as touch screens, video, audio, and graphics) and collaborate with other students and the teacher in multi-player mode.

Students learn progressively harder concepts and are evaluated while they are playing the game. Evaluation takes the form of scoring points and receiving hints, which means in many cases students won’t even realize they are being evaluated. In addition, the teacher can view student interactions and student responses to monitor progress and identify areas of improvement.

Ultimately, our goal is to transform science education so that students learn science without even realizing they are learning science because they are so engaged in the game environment!

How does it work?

iNeuron™ is a mobile device game that teaches neuroscience concepts while students collaborate to solve challenges. After learning a base set of concepts by individually playing with iNeuron (at home or in class), the students break into small groups and compete to solve circuit-building challenges. Some shots of group play are included in our Kickstarter video.

After entering your name, iNeuron presents a set of challenges. Clear brains indicate challenges that are available to solve, solid gray brains are locked challenges. Other indicators (not shown) are a partly filled green brain, which means the challenge is in progress, and a full purple brain is a successfully completed challenge. The student's score is in the upper right and points are earned for completing challenges.

iNeuron main challenge screen.
iNeuron main challenge screen.

Two types of challenges are used: content and circuit-building, with a supporting glossary. 

Content Challenges teach concepts like the different types of cells, the role of inhibition and feedback in nerve function, and graphing neuronal behavior. The lessons conclude with a series of questions. If the student answers correctly, they are awarded points. If they answer incorrectly they are taken to the part of the lesson where the information can be found, and then they try to answer the question again.

Circuit-Building Challenges test and reinforce the concepts that were just taught. For example, students may build a circuit that utilizes several types of cells to contract a muscle. They are awarded points when the circuit is completed successfully and given hints if their behavior indicates they may be struggling.

Glossary: At all times, a glossary is available. The glossary is a comprehensive listing of concepts in neuroscience. To make it manageable for students, it is automatically customized to only those terms that are relevant to the student’s current place in the game. The full glossary is also always available from the main menu.

Methods of Play

Single Learner: A student can use iNeuron by themselves. Teachers may assign single learner play as homework to prepare for group play the next day or include it as part of classroom instruction.

Group Play: Students collaborate to solve challenges by building circuits together in small groups. One student starts a game and others join, up to a maximum number. The number of students per game depends upon the number of pieces in a game; a range of 2-4 players is a common number and some challenges support as many as 6. Multiple group challenges can be going on at the same time. Group play reinforces the neuroscience concepts by encouraging students to use the terms they have just learned and help each other work through the challenge. The competitive spirit is maintained by scoring points and the students hearing the progress the other groups are making.

What is needed to use iNeuron in the classroom?

Mobile devices: Each student requires a mobile device with the iNeuron app loaded onto it. The current version of iNeuron is optimized for iOS devices, specifically the iPod Touch.

Router: For group play, the devices involved in a game must be connected to the same wireless network. The router need not be the school’s wireless network, any router will suffice – just plug it in and have the students connect to the wireless network it provides. Internet access is NOT required.

What does iNeuron look like:

The following are example screen shots from the iNeuron prototype to illustrate what it looks like and how it is used. It incorporates many other challenges that are not shown here. Our video shows the prototype in action, including its use in group play mode.

Basic lesson plans are shown with a combination of text and graphics. The graphics are ‘active’ allowing the student to tap for more information. In this case, tapping the motor neuron’s dendrite will generate points and praise.

Circuits are created by moving each of the pieces to join them together. When completed, each cell in the circuit ‘fires’ and the student can watch the full circuit operate.

Buttons at bottom: The blue hand enables a user to move the pieces. The +/- button enables students to manipulate thresholds. The jagged line button presents a graph the student can use to watch the impulses as they go through the circuit. The impulses are driven by a simulator running in iNeuron. The “?” button provides help in using iNeuron.

Control and feedback loops can also be created in the same manner. In the Control Biceps example, a simple feedback loop is created using a sensory neuron (green) attaching back to the motor neuron (purple) via an inhibitory neuron (orange). Note in this case the +/- button does not appear. This is because changing thresholds is not required to complete this particular challenge.

As students use iNeuron, they are also taught techniques used by neuroscientists in their research. Here the student is learning about graphing as part of the lesson on inhibition. The graph image is active, allowing the student to tap on certain parts to answer the question. During circuit building challenges, students can graph the behavior of the cells in the circuit they are building and, for example, adjust thresholds based on their observations.

In addition to circuits, other neuroscience concepts can be taught. The image above shows an example of basic brain anatomy. The student taps each area of the brain and learns what it is called and its function. A very detailed set of neuroscience concepts are captured in iNeuron. For example, one of the content challenges includes lessons on synapses, see screen shot below. 

Results of Testing

To test iNeuron, we recruited teachers from a neuroscience-related professional development program to play with iNeuron, provide feedback, and sign up for in-classroom use. We recruited 5 teachers, 13 classrooms, and 311 students for our initial tests of iNeuron.

The goal was a preliminary test of iNeuron’s ability to teach the concepts, assess its usability, and measure the engagement of the students. The students in these tests were compared with a random sample of students who took a similar test administered by teachers from the professional development workshop.

Some differences prevented a complete scientific comparison: 1) field test teachers carefully scaffolded the lessons and adapted their teaching approach to match iNeuron and 2) the iNeuron tests were administered at the end of the class period, rather than at the end of the unit like in the comparison group.

Even with these caveats, iNeuron performance exceeded expectations. With a fairly short exposure time to iNeuron, less than 2 hours of class time, the students were able to use and learn with iNeuron. Moreover, combining individual and group play and scaffolding the challenges, students’ knowledge uptake surpassed both the baseline neuroscience test results, and in some instances, the results of students taught by teachers who were trained in this professional development program. Student (and teacher) attitude results were also encouraging as is indicated by these student and teacher quotes.

Students

"Woo Hoo!"

"I’m a very visual learner, so when I could see the neuron connections, it really helped."

"Technology makes us pay more attention."

"This is cool!"

Teachers

"Words cannot describe how awesome the test experience was with my students. For two days, I saw my students engaged, discussing, asking questions, and having fun learning. As a teacher, it was amazing for me to see all levels of learners comprehending and excelling with the content. Without a doubt, this exceeds any supplemental information I have been using in the past."

"This goes way beyond what my textbooks have."

"I want this in my middle school class now. Can you do a pilot test with us?"

"I just finished teaching this topic. This is such a better way of teaching it."

"Putting pieces together is helpful – far beyond identifying parts of the neuron"

Here is a picture of students using iNeuron in class and working collaboratively during one of our field tests. Faces are blurred for privacy reasons.

Educational Standards

Unlike educational games that primarily provide entertainment (edutainment), iNeuron is built to support a wide range of approved curricula and educational standards. When fully implemented, with the Kickstarter community’s help, iNeuron will support a range of Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM)-related topics.

Conclusion

That describes iNeuron and our plans. Thanks for sticking with us to the end of the description.  We have put a lot of work and thought into our prototype iNeuron.  

Please consider backing our effort to get this new educational tool into the hands of teachers by the beginning of the next school year. If you have additional questions, ideas for other subjects to teach, and so on, please post something here and we will respond as soon as we can.

Media Coverage

TECH{dot}MN (5/15/2013): iNeuron launches on Kickstarter 

Pandodaily (5/22/2013): A new iOS game looks to kickstart neuroscience education

Science Shakedown (6/10/2013)iNeuron: Kickstarting STEM education using the iPhone.

Eyewitness News (KSTP, Channel 5) (6/14/2013): New App Teaches Neuroscience to Metro Students

Reward Details

The deck of cards available in several reward categories is a full deck with slots cut in each card that facilitate building sculptures. They will be customized with the Andamio Games logo on the backs of the cards. Here are two example sculptures using the cards. 

An example historic, custom engraved cobblestone featured in the Cornerstone Club reward category is pictured below. Each one is a slightly different shape and size, with wonderful worn patina on the top surface. In daylight, it appears grayer than this picture which was taken indoors. This particular piece is 9" long, 4.5" tall, and a little more than 5" deep. 

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Schedule: We have a tight schedule to get this ready in time for the next school year. As soon as we know that the Kickstarter project will be funded (cleared the base goal), we will begin work. For our stretch goals, we will provide an honest assessment on when those will be completed. Some of our future capabilities can also be accomplished by the beginning of the school year.

Scope growth: We have a lot of ideas on additional capabilities and lessons to add to iNeuron. We intend to focus on firming up the current prototype to accomplish the base goal within the funding we have requested. Our mitigation is our collective experience in managing software development programs.

Engineering: The engineering challenges include strengthening the code and writing guidance for teachers so they can download and use the game on their own. Our experience with the field tests has provided the confidence that this is a straight-forward problem to solve – teachers have had very little trouble adapting to using iNeuron using the written guidance we have provided thus far.

FAQ

  • Yes. For our testing thus far, we were limited due to the requirements and funding limits of our National Institutes of Health grant. In particular, the prototype had to teach important parts of the high school neuroscience curriculum, assume no prior knowledge of neuroscience on the part of the students, and be covered in two class periods. That's why the testing focus was predominately on the neurons.
    However, the prototype includes many more neuroscience concepts than made it into our project description. For example, we have a content challenge that is called "synapses", including a video that shows how they work. We have updated the project description to include a screen shot from that challenge.

    In short, we intend for iNeuron to indeed support a full neuroscience curriculum.

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  • Yes, iNeuron is just the first of many games we have planned. Underlying iNeuron is a custom development and execution platform that makes it very easy to adapt our collaborative gaming approach for use in teaching other subjects. We did not highlight that in our project description because the focus of this Kickstarter project is to make iNeuron widely available on the iTunes store in time for teachers to access for this coming school year (Fall 2013). After that, we plan to produce games for other subjects (these games, by the way, would be included in the rewards that include access to all of our products). So, backing this project is also backing those future games that will utilize our underlying platform.

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    Spinal Cord Level: This one is a no-brainer. We will gratefully acknowledge your support of our project on the Andamio Games web page

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    Amygdala Level. Don’t be afraid to sign up for this reward and earn a positive emotional response. We will gratefully acknowledge your support of our project on the Andamio Games web page and include your name in the credits of the iNeuron game.

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    Parietal Lobe Level: For those that like to have something to hold. In addtion to the rewards of the Amygdala Level (acknowledgement in the game and on our website), we will send you a deck of cards customized with the Andamio Games logo. In keeping with the theme of scaffolding (the educational approach in iNeuron), these quality cards feature slots cut into the cards that make it easy to build structures. See example sculptures in the project description section.

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    Corpus Callosum Level. This reward connects two great rewards together. In addition to the rewards of the Parietal Lobe Level, including the deck of cards, we will send you a T-Shirt customized with the Andamio Games logo like the ones worn in our Kickstarter video.

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    School Supporter Level: This is a great level for schools, PTAs, foundations, or parent groups to pledge. This level includes the same benefits of the Amygdala Level (acknowledgement in the game and on our website). Plus, this level includes application licenses (redemption codes) to download all iNeuron products for use in one classroom (up to 30 students) for the entire 2013-14 school year (including new challenges as they are developed). We will also include a wireless router customized with Andamio Games graphics to make the already simple group play setup even simpler. With a dedicated router teachers will have a network to themselves. The mobile devices are not included.

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    Foundation Club: Be a part of iNeuron’s foundation by pledging this level. In addition to the rewards at the Corpus Callosum level (acknowledgement in the game and on our web page, deck of cards, and t-shirt), you will receive 4 additional decks of cards (5 decks total) to give as gifts or make even more elaborate sculptures. You will also receive a special certificate signed by the design team and suitable for framing that reflects your support of this project and our deep thanks.

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    Cornerstone Club: Be a cornerstone of the iNeuron effort and own a bit of Minneapolis history at the same time. In addition to the rewards from the Foundation Club level, you will receive a custom engraved, historic cobblestone salvaged from the streets of Minneapolis. The cobblestones represent the strength and tireless dedication of teachers in educating our students. Each cobblestone is slighty different and has a wonderful patina. The cobblestones vary in size, but they are approximately 4"x4"x8". An example cobble is shown in the project description. Shipping is included, U.S. Only.

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    This is a great level for schools and districts to pledge to provide staff training on this new wave of education. This level includes a 1-day “teach the teachers” in-person (continental U.S. only) seminar taught by a member of the Andamio Games’ team. The seminar will cover the use of mobile games in the classroom, in general, and details of the iNeuron game for up to 20 licensed teachers or home school educators. Includes application licenses (redemption codes) for iNeuron for each participant and her/his classroom (up to 30 students) for the 2013-14 school year. We will also include a wireless router for each participant customized with Andamio Games graphics to make the already simple group play setup even simpler. It also includes a T-shirt for each participant, customized with the Andamio Games logo, like those shown in our Kickstarter video. Estimated delivery date indicates the date by which the event is estimated to be scheduled. Date of the seminar will be at a mutually acceptable day and time during the 2013-14 school year. The reward includes Andamio Games staff labor, travel, and lodging to prepare for and deliver the seminar. All other costs, if any, related to the seminar such as location rental, refreshments, recruitment and registration of attendees, and other incidentals are the responsibility of the backer.

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