“NOVA” is a familiar name, thanks to their outstanding science programs on PBS. Less well-known may be their online science programming like the NOVA Labs website. “NOVA Labs” is a free digital platform designed to attract teenagers and adults and involve them in scientific exploration! Six labs are currently posted online, with topics from Evolution to RNA, from Clouds to the Sun, and from Energy to Cybersecurity. Each lab treats a different topic, but all deal with key scientific concepts, use videos, and ask participants to answer science questions and solve contemporary problems. The Evolution Lab – our January 2017 Resource of the Month – engages students in solving a series of evolutionary puzzles.
Access the website at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/labs/lab/evolution/. A colorful opening screen asks: “What could you possibly have in common with a mushroom, or a dinosaur, or even a bacterium? More than you might think.” Click “Video Intro” to see a short animated video that reviews the topic’s history, raises central questions, and introduces the NOVA Lab Game.
“About this lab” presents the Evolution Lab by describing the games and how they developed: Players build phylogenetic trees – starting simply, progressing to more complex levels, and finally to a “free-play” mode where they pursue their own questions “in our virtual tree of life.”
But most important to students is the yellow button: “Play Game.” Clicking here lets them view (or review) “Evolution 101,” the introductory video. The right side of the screen lists six “Missions” for play. As in many computer games, players must succeed at lower levels in order to unlock more complex ones! For example, Mission 1 is “Training Trees,” Mission 2 deals with fossils, Mission 4 with biogeography, and Mission 6 is titled “You Evolved, Too.” In Mission 1, players grow a fractal ‘tree’ and track their progress.” An animated video explains what evolutionary concepts the trees represent and how to build them. Students can earn points by growing a tree, and additional points for correctly answering a quiz question.
A few words to the wise: a) the “middle of the screen” is a small dark square on a patterned gray background; icons must be dragged to that small dark area to start the tree-building process; b) to build a tree start with the trait common to all the listed organisms, then insert the trait shared by all but one organism, then a trait that fewer share, etc. After mastering the strategy, you can start progressing toward the “free-play” level! While learning a lot about evolution, teens and adults can enjoy the additional challenge of reaching higher levels and earning points! And be sure to view the Deep Tree version of the Tree of Life, with the evolutionary history of more than 70,000 species!
This resource truly challenges your students’ ability develop strategies and solve puzzles – valuable tools in the world of scientific research! The games appeal not only to biology geeks, but to “gamers” as well – as they organize information, score points, and work through the labs level by level. It’s an ideal learning tool for middle and high school students who love to compete! For teachers, a button on the home page of Evolution Lab opens an “Educator guide” containing a lesson summary, time allotment, and a Standards Alignment for middle school and for high school classes, as well as process objectives, a technology support guide, work sheets, and a list of multimedia resources. NOVA Labs’ website is carefully designed and full of solid scientific information – all that you’d expect to find in a NOVA production!
About the Creators:
The website for NOVA labs was produced for PBS Online by WGBH, and is copyrighted by the WGBH Educational Foundation. Funded by scientific organizations including Argosy Foundation, NASA, Biogen Foundation, and Lockheed Martin, the NOVA Labs website was shaped by more than a dozen platform advisors who are professionals in science and technology, higher education, research, and game development. Fourteen student advisors also work with the NOVA Labs team.