Mobile Apps Make Sustainability Learning Fun

Kristin Peterson
Newsletter Issue: 
June 2014

Children posing in face cutout of a biorenewables themed superhero

Above: The ipad app, based on C6, a biorenewables superhero featured last summer at the Iowa State Fair

Food production, biofuels and the environment are issues that will likely become more and more prevalent with each passing year. But, how do you interest future generations in such technical issues?

Jay Staker, Director of Extension Science, Engineering and Technology at Iowa State University and members of CenUSA’s research team are finding success through development of mobile applications.

“We looked at the big ideas behind the carbon economy and asked, how can we best communicate these ideas to middle schoolers?” said Staker.

Graduate students and interns working with Staker came up with the idea to build an iPad app, based on C6, an animated biorenewables superhero to help students learn about the carbon economy.

“The iPad app was really popular so we thought, let’s build a full blown game,” said Staker.

This summer Staker’s team, including three CenUSA interns, will create an online game that runs on mobile devices. The game will teach middle school students about the carbon economy by integrating fun and familiar gaming styles to enable future learning.

“The most successful part has been helping kids see the link between how they live and the conversations going on between climate, energy, and food production practices; because it’s all interwoven,” said Staker.

The interactive game, geared toward fans of Hay Day, Grow Island and the popular Farmville, the Facebook game sensation, will bring together the science behind the carbon economy from an agriculture production perspective.

In the game, players take on the role of farmer. With the help of C6, an adorable and informational carbon expert, the farmer is challenged to successfully plant, cultivate and manage farmland sustainably and economically.

The farmer can gain points from earning profits or increasing soil quality or lose them for polluting. This teaches students that their management decisions have ramifications.

‭‭The game will be accompanied by an i‭Book curriculum, providing additional educational materials and allowing students to go deeper into ‬the learning principles. ‬The iBook style of delivery will allow the teaching materials to have a lot of animation and visuals. ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

“Research shows you don’t change people with facts,” said Staker. “The tools are a way to let people look at all the concepts, evaluate the evidence and make choices. I’m really passionate about allowing youth to look at the concepts, engage in science arguments and ‬learn to ‭evaluate. These games can help them weigh the evidence and make ‬good decisions.” ‬ ‭ ‬ ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬