The curriculum underlying Crystal Island: Uncharted Discovery’s adventure is derived from the North Carolina Essential Standards for Science landforms curriculum with a focus on maps and models. In Crystal Island: Uncharted Discovery, students learn about landforms, maps, and models while getting customized advice on tasks. Students use virtual maps and other tools to navigate the island and engage in a variety of mapping and way finding quests (as they learn about landforms, coordinate systems, scale, and direction).
Despite the real-world utility of map interpretation, becoming a skilled map user is cognitively challenging. It is difficult for students to connect what they see in the world to map elements. Understanding space-to-map and map-to-space relations is an important but complex skill to acquire, as is the ability to utilize map elements (including scale, directions, and symbols) and to master projective and metric concepts. To address these challenges, the Crystal Island: Uncharted Discovery environment teaches map skills through a broad range of guided map interpretation and navigation experiences through unfamiliar, complex terrains in the learning environment’s virtual uncharted island. It targets four learning objectives:
- Identify common landforms including the following: delta, plateau, river, waterfall, tributary, and volcano.
- Explain that models can represent objects that are very large and processes that occur over long periods of time, and that models often represent features of the earth at a manageable scale.
- Recognize that maps are a kind of portable model representing landforms and human structures.
- Use a map and map elements (e.g., key, scale, compass rose, grid) to navigate and wayfind in a 3D environment.
In addition to these learning objectives, the student’s problem-solving activities are scaffolded through several in-game mechanisms. Throughout the game, non-player characters communicate with the student through dialogue and text messages to offer context-sensitive advice. To provide additional problem-solving scaffolding and create engaging learning experiences, the game includes a virtual tablet computer. The virtual tablet is a multi-functional device that provides a set of apps for students to use throughout their quests:
- IslandPedia app: Provides students multimedia presentations of key content such as pleateus, volcanos, and map navigation.
- Problem-Solving app: Scaffolds problem-solving activities on a per-quest basis by helping students work through the multi-phase process of (1) Understanding the problem, (2) Devising a plan, (3) Carrying out a plan, and (4) Looking back (reflecting).
- Camera app: Used to take photos of landforms or animals at particular locations or map coordinates, as well as photographing new discoveries.
- Photo Journal app: Provides integrated note-taking and journal management functionalities to promote reflection.
- Text Message app: Provides students with timely advice in an unobtrusive fashion. It enables virtual characters in the game to send messages to students to (1) alert them to learning resources they might want to consult to successfully complete their quest, and (2) to provide recommendations if they appear to be progressing too slowly, or are off-task.
- Map app: Provides students with situated map skill experience.
- Quest app: Indicates to students which quests they have accepted, which ones are active, and which ones they have successfully completed. It also indicates which characters they should consult for assistance with particular quests, and it displays the trophies they receive upon completing each of the quests to encourage content mastery.
To support classroom implementations of Crystal Island: Uncharted Discovery, the Game-Based Learning (GBL) Institute led the creation of five supplemental lessons, developed by teachers, to augment the game play experience as part of a multi-week curriculum.