We have been developing an inquiry-based narrative-centered learning environment (NLE) called Crystal Island that is being created in the domains of microbiology and genetics for middle school students. Crystal Island features a science mystery set on a recently discovered volcanic island where a research station has been established to study the unique flora and fauna. The user plays the protagonist attempting to discover the genetic makeup of the chickens whose eggs are carrying an unidentified infectious disease at the research station. The story opens by introducing her to the island and the members of the research team for which her father serves as the lead scientist. As members of the research team fall ill, it is her task to discover the cause of the specific source of the outbreak. She is free to explore the world and interact with other characters while forming questions, generating hypotheses, collecting data, and testing her hypotheses. Throughout the mystery, she can walk around the island and visit the infirmary, the lab, the dining hall, and the living quarters of each member of the team. She can pick up and manipulate objects, and she can talk with characters to gather clues about the source of the disease. In the course of her adventure she must gather enough evidence to correctly choose which breeds of chickens need to be banned from the island.
To illustrate the behavior of the Crystal Island learning environment, consider the following situation. Consider a student who has been interacting within the storyworld and learning about infectious diseases and related topics. In the course of having members of her research team become ill, she has learned that an infectious disease is an illness that can be transmitted from one organism to another. As she concludes her introduction to infectious diseases, she learns from the camp nurse that the mystery illness seems to be salmonellosis and that the source of the disease must be identified. Specifically, the student must identify salmonellosis as the illness and the contaminated eggs as the source of the bacterial infection to solve the mystery.
Hoffmann, K. F., & Nietfeld, J. L. (2009, April). Teacher Assessment of Student Metacognition: Relationships Among Metacognitive Measures and Academic Achievement in Upper Elementary Students. Annual meeting of American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.
Nietfeld, J. L., Hoffmann, K. L., McQuiggan, S. W., & Lester, J. (2008, July). Self-regulated learning in a narrative centered learning environment. Annual meeting of Ed-Media, Vienna, Austria.
McQuiggan, S. W., Hoffmann, K. L., Nietfeld, J. L., Robison, J., & Lester, J. (2008, June). Examining Self-Regulated Learning in a Narrative-Centered Learning Environment: An Inductive Approach to Modeling Metacognitive Monitoring. To appear in Proceedings of the ITS'08 Workshop