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This week on the SciShow Talk Show Andrij Holian and Paulette Jones talk about the development of a new video game designed for middle school students in order to increase their interest in STEM careers. Then Jessi from Animal Wonders joins the show with Bindi, the bearded dragon.
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Hank: Hello and welcome to SciShow Talk Show, that day here on SciShow where we talk to interesting people about interesting things. Today we have Andrij from the University of Montana and Paulette from Meadowlark Science and Education. I did it right!

Paulette: Yes you did.

H: And Meadowlark is developing a game I think in concert with the university. So first tell us what you do at the university.

Andrij: I'm the director of the Center for Environmental Sciences.

H: And you are working with Meadowlark?

A: Correct.

H: OK. And Meadowlark, where did this come from and what do you do?

P: About in 2012 when in concert with Dr. Holian from the Center for Environmental Health Sciences we determined that we needed a game, a video game and in order to be able to apply for funding in the federal government, you need a small business. So the small business kind of flourished out of that and that we're the marketing side of the game.

H: So you determined that you needed a game?

P: Right.

H: That is an interesting way of saying we wanted to develop a game. How did you determine this need?

A: There have been a number of studies that have shown that there is going to be an increased need for students educated in STEM careers and science careers in particular. In addition there have been a number of studies that have shown that the age group that's most important to target are middle school students. So there's a lot of things that are developed right now for elementary and even preschool, once students get to high school they've kind of already pretty well predetermined what their interests are and of course when you get to college they often times have their majors already figured out. So middle school is a great age to target increasing an interest. So that's why we, that's the age group that we're working for.

H: How do you go from knowing that you need a game developed that, like, that will ideally increase an interest in students, an interest in science and engineering and math. How do you move forward from there to actually determine what that game is gonna be? Like it's interesting to start a game with the goal of, like what, what you're going to do to the person while they're playing, rather than just have it be like "Well I want someone to have a good time while they're playing". And in addition to having a good time you want them to, you know, get excited about, you know, the majesty of science, which I am in favor of. How do you do that? How do you, how do you create a game with those two twin goals in mind.

A: Well you're absolutely right. It is really important to create a game that the students are going to enjoy playing. Because if they don't enjoy playing it then it's no better than didactic learning, right? So our goal was to create something that the students would be able to relate to, something that was important in their lives, such as their home environment, potential environmental impacts that they could have in their home, and also health outcomes that they could also, that they hear about or that they know about. And it's an inquiry based game it's kind of like a CSI type of game in which they have to find clues and figure out the problem. And it's a problem solving game.

H: So what's the, what's the what's the plot of the game?

A: The, this first game has to do with carbon monoxide poisoning so the students have to find the clues as to why our character here in the game, Mrs. Worth, passed out, had to be taken to an emergency room. So they have to identify a number of potential clues, causes for why this occurred. Then the have to investigate what, what type of effects these different agents may have and identify which one most closely simulates her symptoms. Then they go in there and they have to measure whatever contaminants are in the home. And so we give them access to equipment, in the video game, to be able to go in there and measure potential contaminants and then they discover that the carbon monoxide levels in her blood are high so that tells them that it must be carbon monoxide. So they also learn about respiration and why oxygen delivery is important, how that occurs and why carbon monoxide is hazardous to health. So they get to explore different clues, they get to explore using pieces of equipment, they look at graphs from the results, they have to interpret those graphs. So there's math involved, the engineering is involved, and technology with the equipment utilization, so they get, they get to cover all the STEM information and also relate to reading material we also prepare for using in the teachers some information that the teachers use beforehand and then afterwards, to reinforce some of the information that they get out of the game.

H: And the game is called The Mice of Riddle Place so are the players mice?

A: Yes they are.

H: Oh okay. So it's not like, it's not like little children trying to figure out why their mom's passed out, it's the, it's the good mice. The ones, they eat your cheese and then they, and then they make sure that you don't die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

A: In this, in this first module right.

H: I like it.

A: The housing for all these games is going to be in Mice of Riddle Place but in each episode that we'll create a different scenario. We're also looking at asthma, as a health effect, and here we'd be looking at what might be causing an asthmatic response. It's really a limitless opportunity to create different learning scenarios.

H: So how big is the team that's been working on this?

A: It takes a lot of, it takes a village to produce a game. We have, we're very fortunate, that's where I think the university, coming from the university environment has been very, very helpful here. So it takes a science writer, someone who really knows the science to make sure the science is correct. We have a physician on board, to make sure that all information is absolutely accurate. We have media arts people, we have people from theater that are engaged in the production of the game and the voice-overs of the characters. Programmers, and of course the various business teams. So it takes quite a few folks to be able to do this. It's a huge, huge effort to produce something like this, even though the final product may be only an hour game. It take quite a few months and a lot of folks involved to be able to produce this product.

H: Yeah. So what's your, what's your timeline? Are you looking about ready to launch?

P: Our first module's ready to go February one.

H: Great.

P: So we're really excited about that that. And for the future we're looking at trying to bring something on board at least once a year. 

H: Alright. Keep adding.

P: And keep adding to the game so all of this will be able to grow within a middle school curriculum.

H: That's fantastic. The Mice of Riddle Place is what to look out for. In the meantime, Jessi from Animal Wonders is going to be bringing us a guest. And I don't, I don't think it's a mouse, it's not a mouse.

A: But it might eat mice, possibly.

H: Oh that is certainly possible. I've met a number of those. Alright, everybody, Jessi is now going to appear right there.

Everybody this is Bindi the bearded dragon! Apparently, Bindi's mouth is dirty. What have you been doing what have you been getting your mouth into?

Jessi: Delicious banana.

H: Ooh yeah that's good. So Bindi, does Bindi eat mice? She does eat mice. Sorry. Find the clues on who ate all the mice.

H: So tell us a little bit about Bindi the bearded dragon. 

J: Well Bindi the bearded dragon, she's a rescue like most of our animals and she came to us very malnourished. She wasn't being fed enough and she didn't have the proper lights. These guys require UV light to get vitamin D and, or they need vitamin D and UV light to make their bones nice and strong. And she had none of it so she's very lucky that she, all of her bones, we got her soon enough that all of her bones are fine. They're fine now and she has all the weight she needs.

H: Yeah, does not look malnourished to me.

J: No she's doing great. She ate tons of food when she came in. And these guys are found in, different environments. She's saying she's not too pleased with you Hank.

H: Sorry. I just wanted her to open her mouth cause that was awesome when she did it earlier.

J: Yeah, why, why do you think they open their mouth? Or did she just stick her tongue out or did she open her mouth? I didn't even see.

H: She had a little, a little tongue poke.

J: Oh she just, okay. She's just testing the air.

H: But a full open mouth would be...

J: A full open mouth and she could hiss at you too.

H: Would be anger.

J: Angry. And discomfort, and go away cause I'm big and scary and I'll bite you. Yeah. I don't know if you've noticed she's gotten a little darker under her chin there.

H: Oh yeah? A little color change happening?

J: Yeah, so that's where they got their name from, the bearded dragon. The males will get darker than the females and they have some really neat things that they do if they encounter their same species in the wild. If they're big and tough and think that they are, their territory is being intruded upon, the males will turn dark beard and do head bobs.

H: It's a lizard thing.

J: Yup, and then if it's a smaller male or a female and they want to be submissive they'll do a little arm wave.

H: They'll be like "Hey I'm cool, no worries".

J: So yeah.

H: Should I do that? Let you know that I'm, I'm cool, don't worry about me, we're friends, see? That's not scary.

J: She's like no, I just want to just get out of here. 

H: We brought a little Bindi food, do you think she's gonna be interested in that?

J: She might, She might be a little riled up by all the people looking at her but we can see. You can put some on the table.  These are mealworms and these are like little snacks for them. Alright. Does that look like food or does everything look terrible?

H: Does that look like food or does everything looks terrible? Everything looks terrible.

J: And now I'm just gonna lay on them.

H: Saving 'em for later. What a big lizard.

J: They can get 24 inches so she could even get bigger. I mean the males, the males can get bigger. She's about full grown right there. If you look closely look at her ears.

H: Big old ear holes.

J: But look inside the ear. Can you see? Is it in the shadow?

H: I see a membrane.

J: Yeah, yeah. So it's not just a hole all the way into their head. And some animals like us have just a hole.

H: Just a hole. 

J: But she has this membrane that covers it because she's down on the ground and she does like to burrow into places so the dirt won't get in there.

H: Oh God, they're running away!

J: Escaping! Hey wait, weren't there three?

H: There were three, once upon a time. There were three and now there are two.

J: Someone's gonna be really lucky. One of you guys eat a mealworm? Have you, you have eaten a mealworm I bet.

J: I've eaten a chocolate covered mealworm.

H: Okay you've never eaten a raw one?

J: No.

H: It's never too late.

J: Do you wanna try one?

H: No. I don't. I've eaten a cricket. That's as, that's as, that's as much insect as I've eaten.

J: Like a real, you just ate it?

H: It was cooked, I believe it was deep fried.

J: Okay. Well that's like, that's not a fresh one yeah.

H: Yeah, no, no. It was not alive. Which is...

J: I don't think I could, I don't think I could eat squirmy food. I can't even eat Jell-o.

H: You can even eat Jell-o?

J: I cannot even eat Jell-o.

H: Oh can't, I was, you were like "I can even eat Jell-o, but I couldn't eat a mealworm". And I'm like "Yeah, most people can eat Jell-o".

J: Not the same. No I can't eat wiggly food. Would you like to hold Bindi?

H: Sure, she didn't seem to like me. Well she can either go on your shoulder or she can go on your hand.

H: Hand is fine, as long as, as long as you think it's okay. Ooh you're prickly. You're prickly. Ow ow! stop don't scratch me! Thank you for coming on my show. I know you don't like me but I like you so that's what matters. Jessi, thanks for bringing Bindi in. If you want to check out Jessi's YouTube channel it's at youtube.com/animalwondersmontana. It's wonderful and you get to see how Jessi takes care of all these animals and how, what a pain in the butt your life is.

J: Thanks!

H: It's remarkable. Paulette from Meadowlark Science and Education, thank you for joining us, and Andrij as well from the University. Looking forward to having your game out in the world for middle school students everywhere to enjoy. It is, it is, The Mice of Riddle Place. Thanks for joining us here on SciShow on the SciShow talk show.If you want to keep getting smarter with us you can go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe. Hey, bye. You're cute.