2015 Teacher Trailblazer

Julia Winter

Detroit Country Day School
2015 Winner for Teacher Trailblazer Award
About Teacher Trailblazer Award

Employs an audacious idea in order to empower students with the opportunity to learn.

Provide an overview of the project, practice or product that your video represents, and how your work encompasses the principles and ideals of the award that you're applying for.

Organic chemistry in college is a notoriously difficult class, with a fail rate that exceeds 40%. This class is a roadblock standing in the path of students wanting to progress in careers in medicine, engineering, and science. The spatial understanding required for success in organic chemistry is not readily accessible via traditional textbook and lecture delivery systems. The audacious idea starts with a high school teacher creating games for a higher education subject. The wonderful thing is that I have received nothing but enthusiasm from professors regarding these games for organic chemistry. We have an advisory board of nine professors at universities in the U.S. and the U.K. and have another forty professors signed on as beta testers. The empowering piece of this project is putting a new method of learning, literally, into students’ hands by creating these mobile chemistry puzzle games. Players can practice the spatial ideas of organic chemistry – over and over – in order to move forward in a game, and in doing so develop the intuitive skills necessary for success. The data from the games and the process of learning can be measured and translated back to the instructor, thus improving outcomes for both the student-user and the higher education institution. Well-designed mobile tools for education have the power to transform learning in higher education. These chemistry games provide immediate feedback loop, so students will know when they are moving through the puzzle correctly. The scaffolding for the concepts of organic chemistry is non-existent in all but a few highly selective high schools in the U.S. These inexpensive digital tools, priced far less than a college textbook, can help students progress into careers in science and medicine, regardless of where they live.

Explain the long-lasting impact of what you've presented in this video, and provide any qualitative or quantitative data that supports this impact.

The learning outcomes for our first game, Chairs!, have been shown to be outstanding. Over 90% of my forty-five students improved or earned a perfect score on a four-point drawing quiz after playing the game throughout the class period. This quantitative result has been confirmed by professors: “After encouraging my students to download Chairs! and taking class time for practice and a contest, I am extremely impressed with the results. My students as a whole were much more adept at ring flips than in any previous semesters.” (Michael Wentzel of Augsburg College.) A mobile learning tool cannot be a “game” unless it is fun to play; otherwise, it is an interactive tutorial. The sharpest spike in downloads for Chairs! came in late January 2015, when 1500 users downloaded the game in a two-week period. The concept was being taught in college classrooms during second semester Organic I at this time. A measure of the retention statistics was taken in late February 2015. The Chairs! play-rate exceeded all the retention benchmarks for a healthy game, out to Day 30 after initial download. The ability of data analytics to deliver personalized learning experiences to students is just beginning to be realized. With thoughtful use of in-game data, struggling students can be targeted early, thus focusing resources where they are needed. Students who excel can be challenged and can find deeper understanding by being able to create their own puzzles through our game editor. The data collected from these touch screen games will be at a much smaller grain-size than that which is collected and used currently. Creating the algorithms to process these data will give insight into learning processes. Armed with this information, educators can devise techniques, both digital and non-digital, to enhance learning in the sciences and beyond.