Email Print Share
November 14, 2016

'MEteor' teaches students about astrophysics (Image 2)

A screen shot from "MEteor," an interactive computer simulation, is projected on the floor for students to interact with. "MEteor" was developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign to teach middle school students about gravity and planetary motion in an immersive, whole-body environment.

More about this image
In an effort to inspire greater numbers of young people to become astronomers and embrace learning science, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I) have developed a new computer simulation called "MEteor" that has children use both their bodies and their minds while they learn about how objects move in space.

"MEteor" is a mixed-reality--the merging of virtual reality with the physical world--computer simulation that teaches middle school students concepts of physics, such as planetary motion and gravitational acceleration, by having them physically act the part of an asteroid traveling through space.

Robb Lindgren, a professor of curriculum and instruction at U of I and principal investigator on the project, says there’s a lot of potential with these types of experiences to motivate students to pursue science education at the primary through university levels and to undertake science careers.

Lindgren's research is focused on the emerging field of embodied learning, a blending of physical activity and computer interaction with instruction that's based on the theory that nearly everything people learn and know is grounded in their bodies and the physical world.

"Unfortunately, science instruction has typically not gotten science students up and moving--until now," says Lindgren. "These types of fully immersive experiences have the potential to transform students’ identities when it comes to how they see themselves related to the profession of science."

In a study by Lindgren and colleagues that compared the impact of the immersive, mixed-reality version of "MEteor" to a version that students used on a standard desktop computer, the researchers found that the students who participated in the mixed-reality simulation showed significant gains in their understanding of physics, higher levels of engagement and a more positive attitude toward science, as well as enjoyed the lessons significantly more than the students who used the desktop version.

The researchers also gave students in each group a set of challenging college-level questions to answer about concepts of force and motion that were addressed in the simulation. The students who participated in the full-body simulation scored significantly higher on the assessment, "adopting more expert-like knowledge of science concepts" than their counterparts, according to the study.

Says Lindgren, "I think we showed in this study that there are significant advantages to embodied interaction in instructional environments if we want to create a generation of students who are interested in and knowledgeable about science." He also says he believes that more research and experimentation with these kinds of immersive, interactive environments is important to increase the science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce.

The "MEteor" project is funded by a $1.4 million Advancing Informal STEM Learning grant from the National Science Foundation (grant DRL 11-14621).

To learn more about this research, see the U of I news story Seventh-graders learn astrophysics through mixed-reality computer simulation. (Date image taken: 2013; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Nov. 14, 2016) [Image 2 of 4 related images. See Image 3.]

Credit: Used with permission from Robb Lindgren; photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation.

Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

Also Available:
Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (4.0 MB)

Use your mouse to right-click (Mac users may need to Ctrl-click) the link above and choose the option that will save the file or target to your computer.