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J. Jacko (Ed.): Human-Computer Interaction, Part IV, HCII 2007, LNCS 4553, pp. 322–331, 2007.
© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2007
Mobile Game-Based Methodology for Science Learning
Jaime Sánchez, Alvaro Salinas, and Mauricio Sáenz
Department of Computer Science
University of Chile
Abstract. This work presents the features and results of a problem-solving
collaborative game for 8th graders science classes’ curriculum. Software for
pocketPC was developed for this game, based on a complete framework
methodology with students and teachers. From our point of view, the key to
integrate mobile devices into school is the methodological framework which
provides meaning; technology by itself does not contribute much to education.
The evaluation study was focused on software usability and the results in the
application of the methodology, observing their performance in problem-
solving skills. A high degree of user satisfaction with the final product was
found. They were motivated to participate actively in the proposed tasks.
Results indicate that the experience contributed to the development of the
student’s problem-solving skills obtaining positive gains as a result of this
Keywords: Children, science, PDA, pocketPC, gaming, learning.
This research work describes and analyzes some results of the Biology Learning with
Mobile Technology project. The goal of the project is to design, develop, apply, and
evaluate a new pedagogical methodology based on interactive games for mobile
devices (PDA). The software is oriented to developing problem-solving skills in
science classes for 8th graders.
Information and communication technologies do not have much contribute to
education by themselves. The people, models, methodologies and strategies are those
that determine changes, innovation and impact on learning. Also, no task or particular
activity influence learning in a deep and final way, rather, it is the learning culture
(with of without technologies) that can impact it considerably.
Some researchers have focused on understanding what Information and
Communication Technologies, (ICT) integration into curriculum is about , how to
do it, and its consequences . ICT integration consists in “making ICT entirely part
of the curriculum as a part of a system, integrating them to educational principles and
didactic for the learning process” . ICT must be integrated to relevant and
legitimate educational knowledge, practices, and available resources in the school
Mobile Game-Based Methodology for Science Learning 323
One of the main contributions of ICTs to education is the support to the
development of high order cognitive skills, such as problem solving, communication
skills, and information management.
Numerous authors have described problem-solving skills as a fundamental activity
in the learning process and as crucial competition ability nowadays. Even though
some authors identify the different steps involved in solving a problem, most of them
agree in those proposed by Polya as a methodology to solve problems: understanding
the problem, designing a strategy, putting the strategy into practice and checking the
One of the most common student practices when using ICT is to play computer
games. However, the potential of the games in education has not been exploited yet.
Games and education appear like separated spaces, even though games produce a high
commitment and motivation in learners  and these attributes can be useful to
improve learning activities.
Diverse authors have analyzed the impact of games on education. Some of them
believe that games can promote higher order learning, such as increased meaningful
dialogues among learners . Other studies describe positive effects of games on
social skills . Authors synthesize the effects of games on education to enhance
learning through visualization, experimentation, and creativity of play, .
Technology has meaning when making specific and distinctive contributions to
improve education. This is especially important when there are technologies (like
computers) available in the same contexts where the PDA is embedded. PDAs have
been described as low cost devices, comprising data storage and processing
capacities, mobile capabilities, ready-to-use, and, therefore, they can be easily
integrated to other devices, such as desktop computers .
Current literature has begun to study the behavior of people who daily carry work
or entertainment tools  as a way of improving the design of mobile devices like
PDAs and cell phones . Therefore, the design of mobile devices from observing
daily actual behaviors of end-users using them begins to create a new understanding
of the construction of user-centered scenarios [8,10]
Several authors have posed the question about the pedagogical potential of mobile
devices [4,6,9]. Some experiences have shown that PDAs are most often used as tools
to aid in research and alternatives to paper-based tasks and group collaboration
activities . A research experience using PDAs in collaborative learning has been
developed by profiting from mobility features of the device, making learning a more
natural process, and also promoting negotiation concepts in the classroom .
The overcrowding of mobile devices, which integrate functionality and allow a
high level of processing and communication, reveals an important potential on the use
of Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) for educational purposes. Their processing
capabilities, the feasibility of multimedia integration and communication possibilities
are key features to create playful and attractive activities for students.
2 Biology Learning with Mobile Technology
The methodology used in the project presented here is problem-solving. This
methodology is framed within learning constructivism in which learners are the main
324 J. Sánchez, A. Salinas, and M. Sáenz
actor in their learning process. Basically, the goal of problem solving methodology is
that children adapt the four fundamental steps involved in problem-solving: (1)
Understand the problem, (2) Trace a solution strategy, (3) Put the strategy into
practice, and (4) Check results.
A biological problem was presented to the students to be solved in a real-time
strategy game for pocketPC named Evolution. Learners have to keep and grow four
animal classes (fish, amphibian, reptiles and bird), each one with three species. The
interaction is made by different actions which affect positively or negatively in the
preservation and development of each species within changing and unknown
environments. The problem is faced in teams of four learners and each student had to
adopt a species.
Learners had to follow three main stages: fieldtrip to the zoo, classroom work and
Fieldtrip to the Zoo. The first part of the methodology consisted in taking out the
students to a fieldtrip in a zoo, so they could understand key concepts for the
development of the fore coming stages. In this activity, and also in the next ones,
learners must solve a problem which is functional for solving the whole game main
problem. At this stage learners interacted with trivia software for pocketPC
(BuinZoo), which guided them and presented riddles that must be solved during the
visit to the zoo.
In order to solve the riddles, learners went to the zoo seeking information and
assisted with the guide and support provided by the software. Each team member
solved a different riddle which complements with the others from different members,
so they can solve the main problem.
When a student finished the test, he or she could help the team companions. Once a
team ended, the members gathered and shared relevant information of the work done.
Finally, each team presented their major conclusions to the problem posed through a
forum moderated by the teacher.
Classroom Work. Following the fieldtrip learners began to play at the classroom
with the game Evolution. This stage lasted four weeks and the students rotate their
interaction with different species. Likewise, during this time learners reinforce
contents embedded in the game, along with problem-solving tasks.
During this stage two activities were implemented in the classroom: 1. Game with
the PDA: students were dedicated to play Evolution. The time session was used for
manipulating species and exploring the possibilities offered by key variables
manipulated for evolution. Along with this, learners continued evaluating, sharing and
analyzing individual and team strategies with the rest of the team. From lesson to
lesson students designed, implemented and evaluated strategies designed to solve the
problem. 2. Approaching to concepts: lessons close to game sessions were planned
in such a way that the teacher could systematize the phenomena observed by learners
during the game and provide key content to understand and interpret the evolution
phenomenon. This content also allowed improving the learner’s performance in the
Mobile Game-Based Methodology for Science Learning 325
Final Activity. To observe the results of the work done during the previous stages, a
web application was implemented to allow students to observe a simulation of the
evolution of the species in the same environment. This simulation, using simplified
parameters, shows what would happen with the species grown by the students using a
bigger time scale. Hence, an environment with biological diversity and a sufficient
number of well grown individuals allow the sustainability of the environment in the
time being (see Figure 1). The idea behind this system was that learners could make
their own daily tracking, watching the status of the ecosystem resulting from game
Fig. 1. Web Simulation
The game Evolution was designed and developed with real time strategy game
features. The purpose was to simulate a real biological process, where the flow of
time is a key variable since it affects living beings mortality and feeding. This type of
game also allows the development of synchronized action between different users
units and the adversary.
The user’s interaction in Evolution presents different components. The
environment is composed by rules which affect the natural behavior of the present
animals. It includes environment variables, which define the type and behavior of the
species. The student, through simulated actions (mortality, reproduction, feeding and
attack) generates changes in the environment status, restricted by defined rules.
The game displays an attractive interface, playful and intuitive. This is a key
element to the game experience, since keeping the users attention is a very important
matter in gaming. For this purpose, graphic and interaction concepts of this type of
game were re-used, focusing on the interface understanding. The interface of the
game is divided in four main parts: 1. Description: This sector shows help
descriptions to the user. These descriptions are dynamic depending on the current
context of the game. For example, if the user has selected certain unit, the description
326 J. Sánchez, A. Salinas, and M. Sáenz
Fig. 2. Interface of Evolution
will consist on relevant data associated to that unit. 2. Map: This is the main zone of
the game. This zone shows all events and provides access to all actions available in
the game (feeding, attacking, moving, reproducing and evolving units). 3. Mini Map:
This is a zoom out of the complete map, showing a general vision of all units. User
and enemy units are represented by a green and red square respectively, while nests
are represented by a white square. 4. Options Menu: There are three options in this
menu, from left to right: show evolving zone in the mini map, game pause/play, and
go to game menu (see Figure 2).
4 Usability Study
Expert Evaluation. This evaluation was carried out by two HCI experts ages
between 20 and 25 years old, assisted by a member of the development team. We
used heuristic evaluation questionnaires built from Schneiderman golden rules 
and Nielsen usability heuristics . The resulting test consisted in 12 heuristics
embracing a total of 25 items. They are statements on which experts have to indicate
their appreciation in a Likert-type scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The
evaluation was carried out by each expert during a session of 45 minutes by using a
first prototype. During the session, the software was shown to experts. Then, they
explored the software freely during 30 minutes. Finally, they answered the Heuristic
Experts highly accepted the software. On the average, the game obtained an
appreciation score of 3.6 out of 5 (see Figure 3). Out the 11 heuristics evaluated by
experts, 8 obtained scores situated in the average or above the average score. Only 3
heuristics were located below the average score.
The heuristics that presented the lowest score in the evaluation were “error
prevention”, “help users to recognize, diagnose and recover from error” and “help and
documentation” during the game. One of the most important reasons that can explain
the low score obtained in these three heuristics was the early implementation of this
test during software design and development cycle. However, the highest scores
obtained corresponded to the heuristics that are considered a standard for videogames
(and that learners are used to). The results of this testing allowed to correct bugs and
improve the interface design of the application, such as colors, icons and characters.
Mobile Game-Based Methodology for Science Learning 327
Fig. 3. Heuristic Evaluation
Cognitive walkthrough methods were also implemented. Experts assumed the role
of the end-users, developing tasks in an early prototype of the game. They played as if
the software was finished and solved tasks in the role of a typical user. Each step
carried out by the expert was monitored, looking for those situations in which the
interface blocked and prevented him or her to finish the task or to follow procedures
unnecessarily complex. This information allowed us to identify critical aspects to
improve in the interface.
Experts could complete all tasks without relevant difficulties. Experts detected
some bugs that were later eliminated, suggested the improvement of the feedback
provided by each action, and the correction of some errors.
End-User Evaluation. The sample consisted in 76 teenagers from 8th grade, from
three primary schools of Santiago de Chile. The sample selection was based on the
diversity criteria according to socio-economical level and academic results from
standard tests. In this test the Evolution game was evaluated.
The end-user evaluation was implemented through the following stages: software
introduction, software interaction, application of the End-User Usability
Questionnaire  and evaluation. The questionnaire consisted of 21 closed
questions, using a Likert-type scale of 5 points from “strongly agree” to “strongly
disagree”. Each answer was matched to a score scale from 5 to 1 respectively.
The results obtained can be grouped in 5 categories: (1) Game Satisfaction, (2)
Game Control, (3) Game Usage, (4) Game Sounds Quality and (5) Game Image and
The field with the higher score was the one related to game image and color
quality, which reveals an attractive and entertaining user interface. Game sounds were
also evaluated with a high score. They were pleasant and visible to evaluators. There
were no important differences between women and men. There was a high general
satisfaction with the game, scoring an average of 4.2 (see Figure 4). Two very
important aspects were also evaluated: whether the user would play again, and
whether they would recommend the game to other youngsters. These aspects were
highly scored too, obtaining a total of 4 points out of 5. Both items were evaluated
highly by men and women.
The evaluation of the use of the game, based on the perception that the game was
interactive, user friendly, easy to use, motivating and with a interface that allows the
user to do everything in a simple and quick way, obtained a high score (4.1 out of 5),
328 J. Sánchez, A. Salinas, and M. Sáenz
Fig. 4. End-User Usability Results
stating clearly that the user interface and interaction were well designed for this type
of users (see Figure 4).
It was important for users that they felt they are in total control of the game; they
could do different actions when consider it was advisable, or stopped doing them as
well. This part of the evaluations scored the lowest of all variables (see Figure 4),
which could be explained by the type of game presented, where many actions could
not be controlled by the user.
There were difference between the results obtained by men and women on game
usage and control. In both cases the difference was about 0.5 points, which should be
highlighted. This difference tells that women found game interaction and
understanding more difficult than men. Along with this, they did not feel in total
control of the game.
5 Problem Solving Competitions
The measurement of problem-solving competitions was made by using a survey built
with 3 dimensional resolution scales. This survey was applied to students who
participated during the whole project and to a control group who did not participate in
the study. The scale records the report made by the students concerning the frequency
of the application of typical problem-solving procedures in their daily life.
Each dimension conform subscales measured by several items, whose scores vary
from 1 to 5. By using this subscale, the lower the score, the less frequency the
students apply a series of procedures related to planning, designing strategies and
As depicted in figure 5, the average score obtained in each the sub-scale varied
from 3.6 to 4.2 points. In each subscale, the experimental group obtained a score a
little higher than the control group. The dimension in which both groups obtained the
higher scores was strategy, but the scale that presented the biggest difference was
planning. This is precisely the subscale where the difference between the
experimental and control groups was statistically significant. This means that, when
controlling other variables, the activities performed in the project would improve
planning strategies in problem-solving. In the evaluation index of strategy for daily
life the differences were not significant by a small margin.
Mobile Game-Based Methodology for Science Learning 329
Fig. 5. Subscale Scoring on Daily Life Problem-Solving
We also applied a problem-solving performance test. The participants were 26
groups of 4 students each. From each of the participant classes plus the participants
from the control group, we selected randomly 2 teams of students. This test consisted
in that the students had to solve a problem during 10 minutes. The problem was to
build a route which joined a defined amount of dots over a surface, considering
special requirements and restrictions. The target, requirements, and restrictions were
given on paper to each student. The performance of the students was observed by 2
evaluators. Once the test was finished, a few questions, both oral and written, were
asked to the students about the experience.
The observations made during this test showed a small improvement in those
students from experimental group over the control group. In general, these students
tended to organize faster and to discuss more between them. Nevertheless, the most
interesting difference between both groups was that the students from the
experimental group followed the whole problem-solving cycle, including evaluation
of obtained results and comparing them with the requirements presented at the
beginning of the work.
The Evolution game was motivating for users, producing satisfaction and desire to
recommend it to others and to play again. Sounds and images used in the game were
pleasant to users and allowed to convey information.
Integrating games into education is not easy to achieve. There is an attempt to
articulate playful concepts with complex concepts, quickness with reflection. Our
game integrated these concepts to a level we could define as procedural: students
manipulated variables to achieve the evolution of their species. Nevertheless, the
declarative level was the teacher task out of schedule. Then, they researched over the
Internet, discussed concepts, and systematized information. We believe that this first
experience could be improved and represent a promising future line of work.
In more global terms, users were satisfied with the project. One of the things most
remarked by users was the game contribution to learning, and the newness and
mobility of the used technology, which allowed taking advantage of places like the
zoo for curricular purposes.
330 J. Sánchez, A. Salinas, and M. Sáenz
One of the most remarkable aspects was the commitment of learners with the task
performed. The literature about the use of games in education remarks the
commitment with the task as one of the strongest aspects and one of the main
contributions of games to learning. Participant teachers and students agreed that the
commitment produced, even on those times where the task was complex and hard for
learners. This is more interesting when learners often had little tolerance to hard work
and frustration from the harder tasks. We believe this is a very valuable and
interesting clue worth of further research: how the use of games in education can
increment work skills and solve complex problems, and at the same time allowing the
handling and management of learner’s frustration. In one of the visits to BuinZoo a
person who was visiting the zoo approached a research team member asking how we
achieved that students worked so focused and well, even in a context of little control
from teachers. The answer was the focus of the activity they were involved using the
PDA: students were working not to pursue a grade mark or because someone was
controlling their work. Rather, they were working because they were interested in
We also found that the methodology used had an impact on the problem-solving
competitions of learners, but the results indicated that the impact was significant only
on one dimension out of the three analyzed. Our interpretation of this is that the
application was in a short period of time to produce an impact in all dimensions of
problem-solving. This should be explored more fully in future studies.
We believe that the development of games with educational purposes using mobile
devices is rewarding and stimulating. Our work has been guided by the interest of
developing a game with logic close to the most attractive games in the market,
integrating learning contents. We believe it is necessary to continue the study of
learning- embedded games, meaning that a good performance of the game is possible
when the contents are learned. At the same time, we believe that providing spatial
reality to learning (unbinding it to specific places such as the classroom and granting
mobility to students who want to move by nature) open new possibilities to tailor
learning to the learners way of being.
Acknowledgments. This report was funded by the Alliance for Education Program,
Microsoft Corporation, Project Biology Learning with Mobile Technology “ABTm -
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