July 5, 2022
By WCER Communications
Field Day Lab’s newest e-learning game, The Legend of the Lost Emerald – an immersive, boldly illustrated point-and-click adventure game that teaches while entertaining – recently won its first accolades with a top award as part of the 2022 International Serious Play Awards program. in Orlando, Florida.
The free game invites young students to “step into the shoes of Jules”, a maritime archaeologist character working to uncover the stories behind shipwrecks inspired by the real history of the Great Lakes. It was one of nine educational games developed for primary or secondary learners to receive a gold medal in the awards program sponsored by Serious Play Conference, a leading organization of professionals in the field of game based learning for education or training.
“We were particularly impressed with the quality of the games produced for use in K-12 education,” says Sue Bohle, former high school teacher and Atari Games executive who now leads the conference. “The learning games industry has matured to the point where new products really work for teachers and parents.”
You can play the game online and free resources for educators are available. Field Day Lab is housed at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), part of UW-Madison’s School of Education.
The new Field Day game offers students in grades 4-6 the experience of using the same tools, practices and skills that maritime archaeologists use to locate and dive for shipwrecks on the Great Lakes. Wisconsin Academic Standards in English Language Arts and Social Studies, as well as Great Lakes Literacy Skills, are supported through games and outreach activities. It is available in English and Spanish and was developed by Field Day Lab, PBS Wisconsin Education, Wisconsin Sea Grant, and an advisory group of Wisconsin teachers. The Wisconsin Historical Society’s Maritime Archeology Program also provided key content assistance.
“I’ve seen The Legend of the Lost Emerald spark so many fun and meaningful learning experiences for kids,” said PBS Wisconsin Director of Education Alyssa Tsagong, who appeared on The WPR’s Morning Show to talk about the game in March. “Creating this game with and for educators from start to finish has made it what it is today: a beautiful, high quality and engaging learning adventure!”
“The entire collaborative team on this project has done an incredible job connecting students to the rich maritime history of the Great Lakes watershed,” said Anne Moser, education coordinator for Wisconsin Sea Grant. “The purpose of education at Wisconsin Sea Grant is to ignite a passion for the Great Lakes and I have seen how shipwreck stories do just that. We are excited to share this with the educators and youth we work with. throughout Wisconsin.
To refine the game, students tested it in classrooms at 16 Wisconsin schools in Madison, Middleton, Racine, Milwaukee, Arbor Vitae, Auburndale, Fish Creek, Wales, Verona and Burlington. The game has now been played by about 13,000 children in Wisconsin and “many more nationwide,” said Field Day manager David Gagnon.
The game has been designed so that it can be played entirely in two 35-40 minute lesson periods. In-character players use a simple version of sonar and GPS coordinates to locate shipwrecks, dive to take underwater photos, and search for clues in historical artifacts, like letters and ship manifests, all while connecting String data on a corkboard-style evidence board to draw conclusions and then share findings.
The game features four shipwrecks to explore, ending with the game’s title emerald, a case that also features family ties to Jules, the archaeologist character. Along with a storyline incorporating sibling conflict to better engage younger players, the game features watercolor paintings and “wonderful music and sound design,” says Field Day senior producer Jim Mathews for the game.
But Mathews says the real music to his ears is hearing teachers playing the game in the classroom sometimes lead students to explore shipwrecks, maritime archeology or related topics more on their own.
“We built the game trying to get kids to play, to enjoy it, to learn something, but to get really curious about it,” he says, “so that their curiosity acts as a springboard for them. to engage in other kinds of activities around historical research. That’s knocking it out of the park for a game as far as I’m concerned.
“What we’d like games to do,” adds Mathews, “is that they’re not just something you jump on the computer and do for 30 minutes, when there’s free time, but that they are actually integrated into the curriculum and they spark curiosity and joy in a way that encourages children to dig in and explore some of these ideas in a new context.
Educational themes explored in The Legend of the Lost Emerald include trade and commerce, movement of people, historic preservation, lake ecology, and technological change. Students also learn about the role of archivists, historians, and museum curators in four periods of maritime history, ranging from the wooden schooners of the mid-1800s to the steel freighters of the 1960s.
Entries to the Serious Play rewards program were judged on their ability to meet learning, engagement, aesthetics, and assessment goals. Entry categories included K-12 education, higher education, healthcare/medical, museum/visitor center, business/professional, military/government, l preschool education and non-profit organizations.