hunger games / embodied classroom simulations of animal foraging

Hunger Games is a learning environment designed to support upper elementary learners’ construction of understandings of animal foraging behaviors. Hunger Games began with a pilot enactment of an instructional unit for elementary school students, which centered on development of learner understandings of animal foraging behavior. It is an educational research project lead by Tom Moher’s at the University of Illinois Chicago Learning Techologies Lab. In Hunger Games, learners enact animal foraging within the context of a sequence of increasingly complex simulated scenarios involving varying conditions of competition, resource depletion, sociality, and predation. Inspired by traditional teaching practices employing physical simulations, within the unit students engage in an embodied enactment of foraging using stuffed animals (with embedded RFID tags) as tangible avatars to represent their foraging among food patches (with camouflaged RFID readers) distributed around a classroom. Displays situated near the food patches provide students with information regarding the energy gain as the forage in the environment. A two-period pilot enactment of the unit demonstrated the feasibility of the design for classroom use, evidenced the development of affective relationships between learners and avatars, and afforded the emergence of unanticipated behaviors that promoted new questions about the science phenomena. The results suggest provisional support for the effectiveness of the unit as a science learning environment.

In Hunger Games, each student in the classroom is provided with a small stuffed animal (“squirrel”) that serves as his or her “avatar” during the activity. Students forage by physically moving their squirrels among a set of “food patches” of varying quality distributed around the classroom, gaining energy as a function of the elapsed time in the patch, patch quality, and competition within the patch (i.e., the presence of other squirrels). Avatars may also fall victim to predation (signaled on smaller displays adjacent to each food patch). Avatars who are “caught” are considered “injured,” and given a short “time out” period in which their squirrel cannot gain calories even if located in a patch; this allows for the introduction of concepts of predation without forcing children out of the game prematurely.

As part of this project, I designed and implemented the RFID tracking system supoorting the interaction proposed for Hunger Games.

Hunger Games was featured at the Huffginton Post in April of 2015 7 Cyberlearning Technologies Transforming Education and the research results were presented at Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction.

technologies used:   RFID readers, RFID tags, iPad tablets, Processing