Scientific concepts can be difficult to relate to real life affairs, with many students simply learning off answers without truly understanding their application. However game-based learning can be a helpful tool for bridging the gap between knowledge and understanding. Learning about communicable diseases, such as measles, whooping cough and tuberculosis are part of most Middle and High School core science texts, and Pox: Save the People is an award winning iPad app that can bridge this gap by supplementing biology/life science lessons in grades 6 – 12.
Developed to give students a better understanding of communicable diseases, community health and the notion of ‘herd immunity’, the game’s learning objectives are uncomplicated and to the point. Students learn about how diseases spread and what the role of vaccinations is for disease prevention and public health. Pox has impeccable credentials having been developed by the Tiltfactor lab in Dartmouth College with the help of various public health bodies, ensuring that the content is scientifically accurate and well-researched.
Through a colorful grid shaped interface, the game teaches how diseases can spread from person to person, and how outbreaks happen when community members are not vaccinated. The ultimate goal for players, is to try and stop the spread of disease through a community with the least number of deaths and contain the outbreak. Each disease condition is denoted by a colored dot; infected individuals by red dots, deaths by black dots, vaccinated individuals by blue dots, and immuno-compromised individuals by yellow dots. Players can work collaboratively or on their own to vaccinate or cure citizens and the game is won when the disease outbreak is contained. The game is very easy to pick up, has a warm dream-like soundtrack, and players quickly realise how a disease can get out of control fast with an unvaccinated population.
Pox is a valuable supplement to science classrooms, not only for understanding the structure of disease outbreaks, but also as a discussion point for public health and vaccinations. Debate about vaccines and public immunization is a topical subject in many Western countries, with a change in beliefs potentially causing the re-emergence of diseases such as whooping cough. Rather than preaching a particular moral opinion about whether vaccines are right or wrong, Pox simply explains the science behind communicable diseases and its effect on a community. This gives teachers good leverage to create their own lesson plans around the game, and stimulate group discussion in the classroom.
As a bonus, Pox have developed their own lesson plans for both High School and Middle School classrooms, making it even easier to integrate the game into existing lessons. These lesson plans target key biology and life science topics such as the spread of disease, vaccinations, death and immune-compromised persons.
What makes Pox different to many of the tools, apps and technologies we feature in this magazine, is that it was first developed as a successful board game before branching out to the iPad. Although the iPad version is a more interactive experience that requires less set up time, the board game is useful to keep at the back of the class for those days where a tech-disaster (such as a missing or broken iPad) rears its ugly head.
Pox is available for free on iPad via iTunes, and the Pox board game can be purchased via the Pox website for US $24.95.