Gina Navoa Svarovsky
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Gina Navoa Svarovsky is a Research Fellow at the Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Laboratory and a graduate student in the Learning Sciences program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduating with her degree in chemical engineering from the University of Notre Dame, Gina entered ACE, a two-year volunteer program serving under-resourced schools. While teaching high school science, she became increasingly interested in how students engaging in authentic engineering design projects could better understand concepts in physics. This lead her to the Epistemologies of Practice research group at UW and the Games and Professional Practice Simulations research initative at the Academic ADL Co-Lab. She is currently working on the Digital Zoo project, where middle school girls are working as biomechanical engineers to develop structural character prototypes for an upcoming animated feature film.


Games for Thought: The Future of Education & How We can Get There.
Symposium, Friday (3:15 - 4:45) in Hall of Ideas E

digital zoo: sodaconstructing the next generation of engineers

"Children are born engineers. Everything they see, they want to change. They want to remake their world. They want to move dirt and pile sand. They want to build dams and make lakes. They want to launch ships of sticks. They want to stack blocks and cans and boxes. They want to build towers and bridges."

- Henry Petroski, Early Education, 2003

In the epistemic role-playing game digital zoo, "born engineers" cultivate their natural tendencies to explore, create, and design by working as professional biomechanical engineers who solve design problems in a realtime persistent world. By playing digital zoo, students develop scientific understanding by seeing, thinking, and acting as engineers.

Stage One: In-House Design

Middle school students solve engineering design challenges on SodaConstructor, a Java-based spring-mass modeling simulation. They use rapid iterations of the Design-Build-Test cycle -- the core practice of engineering design -- to learn physics through epistemic gameplay.

Stage Two: Prototyping for External Clients

Students level up to work as biomechanical engineers developing structural character prototypes on SodaConstructor for the next Pixarš movie. They conduct prototype evaluations, interface with clients, and balance competing design objectives as they learn about engineering design, physics, and animation.

In this talk, I will present an overview of digital zoo and data from both stages of gameplay, focusing on how engaging in authentic iterations of the engineering Design-Build-Test cycle develops scientific knowledge and engineering values.

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