Instructional games: Scientific language use, concept understanding, and attitudinal development of middle school learners

Geraldine Mongillo, Fordham University


The purpose of this qualitative study was to discover the influence of instructional games on middle school learners' use of scientific language, concept understanding, and attitude toward learning science. The rationale for this study stemmed from the lack of research concerning the value of play as an instructional strategy for older learners. Specifically, the study focused on the ways in which 6 average ability 7th grade students demonstrated scientific language and concept use during gameplay. The data were collected for this 6-week study in a southern New Jersey suburban middle school and included audio recordings of the 5 games observed in class, written documents (e.g., student created game questions, self-evaluation forms, pre- and post-assessments, and the final quiz) interviews, and researcher field notes. Data were coded and interpreted borrowing from the framework for scientific literacy developed by Bybee (1997). Based on the findings, the framework was modified to reflect the level of scientific understanding demonstrated by the participants and categorized as: Unacquainted, Nominal, Functional, and Conceptual. Major findings suggested that the participants predominantly achieved the Functional level of scientific literacy (i.e., the ability to adequately and appropriately use scientific language in both written and oral discourse) during games. Further, it was discovered that the participants achieved the Conceptual level of scientific literacy during gameplay. Through games participants were afforded the opportunity to use common, everyday language to explore concepts, promoted through peer collaboration. In games the participants used common language to build understandings that exceeded Nominal or token use of the technical vocabulary and concepts. Additionally, the participants reported through interviews and self-evaluation forms that their attitude (patterns included: Motivation, Interest, Fun, Relief from Boredom, and an Alternate Learning Approach) toward learning science was positively affected by playing games. This research confirmed the value of playing instructional games and indicated the potential benefits for teaching and learning scientific vocabulary and concepts in middle school settings. Educators are in need of finding methods that stimulate the often disinterested or disengaged adolescent student. Results from this investigation suggested that games provided a meaningful alternate learning approach that relieved the boredom associated with traditional science instruction.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Science education

Recommended Citation

Mongillo, Geraldine, "Instructional games: Scientific language use, concept understanding, and attitudinal development of middle school learners" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3213879.