Geniverse is free, web-based software for high school biology that engages students in exploring heredity and genetics by breeding and studying virtual dragons. Interactive models, powered by real genes, enable students to do simulated experiments, generate realistic and meaningful genetic data and win star ratings for efficient experimentation.
Use Geniverse in Your Classroom
Watch teachers and students describe how Geniverse has changed their classrooms.
Meet Geniverse: online, interactive genetics software for high school students. Geniverse is game-like software that teachers use to engage students in simulated experimentation, critical thinking and writing about genetics.
Geniverse shares a pedigree with past Concord Consortium projects reaching back to the pioneering GenScope software and is built upon the same compelling premise—students explore heredity and genetics by breeding and studying virtual dragons.
A captivating narrative creates an authentic context for students to dive into genetics. They use a virtual model species to explore the fundamental mechanisms of heredity and genetic diseases and then get a taste of careers in genetics. While following a courageous protagonist on a quest to heal a beloved dragon, students generate their own experimental data as they complete Geniverse challenges. They “publish” their findings using the scientific practice of argumentation, supporting their claims with evidence and reasoning, first in writing, and then in class discussions.
What are teachers saying about Geniverse?
Using the program...
- “I am truly delighted by the program and the kids' reception to it.”
- “The kids really liked the story. They loved being able to pick their avatar.”
- “When they then went to Challenge 4 and had crossing over the smiles were spectacular!!!”
- “The collaborative nature of the work is what I find most authentic and affirming for students and teacher alike.”
- “Teaching Punnett squares was such a breeze after they did all this preliminary work on cases 4 and 6. Some had already invented the upper and lower case lettering!”
Students doing science...
- “...fantastic. The struggles that students encountered are real enough to validate what scientists experience but solvable enough to make them feel accomplished.”
- “The discussions that are occurring around the table as they are working through their challenges are very cool. They are talking science!”
- Sign up to participate in the 2013-2014 school year! Free registration and teacher support materials.
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In Geniverse, students collaborate to investigate dragon genetics, create and consult bioinformatics databases and access and publish papers in a dragon research journal to report on their findings.
I am truly delighted by the program and the kids\' reception to it.
Geniverse research is being led by our research partner, BSCS, with assistance from our evaluator partner, TERC.
Our research study is examining how the Geniverse materials affect students’ genetics content knowledge and abilities to engage in scientific argumentation. In addition to pre- and post-tests for content knowledge, we will measure both student motivation and the degree of fidelity of implementation of Geniverse. Student demographic variables (race/ethnicity and gender) are being collected to examine if the Geniverse materials provide equitable opportunities for students to learn. We are also examining the affects of a range of teacher characteristics (years using Geniverse, familiarity with instructional technologies, genetics background and experience with scientific argumentation pedagogies) on student outcomes.
The research study began in the fall of 2012 with 48 teachers. Twenty-four are currently using Geniverse and 24 are using their traditional genetics materials. In this quasi-experimental design, control group teachers were matched to treatment teachers based on student demographic variables. The primary matching variable was Free and Reduced Lunch Status, with secondary variables including Race/Ethnicity and Grade Level.
An added feature of our research design is the ability to avoid measuring implementation dip – that is, the effects of immature implementation often measured in randomized experiments. In Year 2 of the study six teachers piloted the Geniverse program. These teachers were then included in the field test in Year 3 of the program, along with six new teachers. These 12 teachers then continued into the Year 4 quasi-experiment, along with 12 new teachers. As such, our treatment group in Year 4 includes 12 teachers using the program for the first time, 6 who are in their second year of use, and 6 who are in the third year of use – thereby allowing us to examine the impact of this variable on student achievement and fidelity of implementation.
Student Outcome Measures
Student Content Knowledge
Our primary measure of student achievement employs two sets of test questions. One set of items are very closely aligned with the students’ experiences with Geniverse (proximal items), and the other set is more generally aligned to learning goals and related standards (distal items) (Ruiz-Primo et al., 2002). Providing these two different item sets will help with the sensitivity of the test, in that even if the difference in treatment effects is very small, one may still see differences on the proximal items.
For the proximal items, we looked closely at each Geniverse learning goal and activity, and developed or identified items that aligned with each. These items not only focus on content that is closely aligned with the Geniverse activities, but also use a similar context.
For the distal items, we are using an instrument by Tsui and Treagust (2010) designed to diagnose scientific reasoning in genetics. We see this serving to both a) provide a set of distal items that align well with national standards in genetics, and b) provide a fair comparison with the control group. The items on this instrument are in pairs, with the second part of this pair asking students to explain their reasoning in the first part.
Many of the game-based aspects of Geniverse are designed to engage and motivate students. Research has consistently shown that student motivation and achievement are closely related (Hulleman, Durik & Harackiewicz, 2008; Nicholls, 1979), and so we are measuring these relationships in Geniverse, and comparing them to motivation effects in the traditional control group.
Measures of motivation being used are based around the formula: Motivation = Expectancy x Value, where expectancy is the extent to which students feel they can succeed at a task, and value represents the extent to which students are interested in and see value in a task. Importantly, this equation suggests that motivation is the product of expectancy and value, so if either component is zero, so is motivation.
A second set of learning goals focuses on students’ abilities to construct and critique scientific arguments, and aligns with the argumentation goals in the Next Generation Science Standards. Geniverse is designed to engage students in activities that reflect authentic scientific practice. At various points in Geniverse students are required to make claims about the patterns they see in the data, provide appropriate sources of evidence to support those claims and provide reasoning that links the evidence to the claim.
Our measurements of students’ abilities to construct and critique scientific arguments are made via a specific subset of the tasks embedded within the Geniverse materials and one open-ended item on the pre- and post-tests. Arguments are scored using rubrics modified from McNeill et al. (2007) and Wilson et al. (2010).
In addition to our three primary measures of student impacts, we are also administering a teacher background survey (which assesses their incoming familiarity with key program features), a teacher post-survey for control teachers (which will allow us to have a clear picture of the experience of the control group students), and a post-survey for treatment teachers (which will allow us to measure implementation fidelity). Other fidelity data will come directly from records in the Geniverse software itself, such as how far each student gets through the materials.
We are collecting data through the 2012-2013 school year and hope to publish in the following year. Stay tuned!
What does Geniverse teach? Genetics! Specifically: heredity, meiosis and the pathway from DNA to trait.
- Heredity: Mendelian inheritance, incomplete dominance, x-linkage, polyallelic and polygenic traits
- Meiosis: random assortment of chromosomes into gametes, selection of gametes to create offspring
- DNA to trait: locations of genes on chromosomes, transcription, translation, mutations, functions of proteins in creating traits
How does Geniverse work? Students play through four levels of challenges using highly interactive, creative software that includes a compelling storyline and authentic genetic data. Students who use Geniverse software learn to reason their way through genetic challenges by crafting experiments that probe for information and answers, generating their own data sets and conclusions.
What exactly are students breeding? Just as the mouse is a genetic model for humans, in Geniverse the "drake" serves as a model organism for dragons. These fantastical creatures have proven to be compelling for students of all ages, and have been created for Geniverse using real-world genes and traits. The breeding is virtual!
How complex is the drake genome? The drake genome comes from real-world animals, including mouse, lizard and stickleback fish. For example, the drake's "armor" plates are encoded by a real gene involved in generating some typical properties of skin: scales in anole lizards, and hair and sweat glands in mammals, including humans. Both simple and complex traits are distributed on the three pairs of drake chromosomes. Students encounter genes following Mendelian dominant/recessive patterns, incomplete dominance and x-linkage, as well as polyallelic and polygenic traits.
Does Geniverse include scientific argumentation? Yes! Geniverse weaves argumentation into the genetics curriculum:
- Activities pose challenges that are answered with written arguments.
- Students’ claims are supported with evidence from their virtual experiments.
- Students are awarded a quill for submitting their argument to an embedded, class-wide journal.
- Teachers can view all student posts, provide private, formative feedback in the journal, and are advised to choose a subset of the argumentation challenges for summative assessment purposes.
Does Geniverse support deep learning? Yes! Using writing as an approach to argumentation, followed by carefully scaffolded small group discussions, and finally classroom-wide discourse, Geniverse helps teachers and students dive deeper into exploring the mechanisms of genetics. Students are equipped to better understand the bigger picture of genetics—and the importance of scientific argumentation and discourse.
What's the story with these dragons? In Geniverse's illustrated, interactive narrative, students choose a male or female protagonist to follow throughout a quest to heal a sick dragon. They begin their Geniverse adventure as a student in the Drake Breeder's Guild, where they move through four levels of progressively more difficult genetics challenges: Training, Apprentice, Journeyman and Master. Students unlock new chapters of the narrative, pushing the storyline and student interest forward.
How are meiosis and heredity integrated in Geniverse? Early research results indicated that students needed a conceptual link between the alleles of the parents and the production of offspring. Therefore, we integrated our meiosis and fertilization model early in the Training level to help students build a mental model of chromosomal assortment into gametes. Following meiosis, students select male and female gametes to produce “target” offspring with a required set of traits. The meiosis and fertilization model also appears at other key points throughout the levels of Geniverse. Teachers report that the meiosis challenges help students make the connection between reproduction, the inheritance of traits and Punnett squares.
How is the relationship between DNA and proteins introduced? Higher game levels introduce another model, the Gene-to-Protein Genie, a combined, simplified genome browser and protein synthesis model. Students select one or more allele variants for a gene and translate them into amino acid sequences in order to compare them, connecting the phenotypes for a trait with the proteins produced by the DNA. Students can use the Genie to uncover the genetic cause of a mysterious disease affecting the protagonist's dragon in the story. The narrative also links the disease to a similar condition in humans.
Does Geniverse include assessments? Student understanding is assessed throughout Geniverse. In game-like challenges students earn up to three stars for solving puzzles efficiently. This star system is very motivating. Students often voluntarily repeat challenges multiple times in order to achieve the three-star rating that signals mastery. Teachers can download star reports to track student progress.
Do teachers like using Geniverse? Yes! Here’s what they have to say:
- “The struggles that students encountered are real enough to validate what scientists experience but solvable enough to make them feel accomplished.”
- “The discussions that are occurring around the table as they are working through their challenges are very cool.”
- “They are talking science! They are asking transference questions about drake inheritance to human inheritance. Love it!”
- “Necessity is the mother of invention! Now that they really needed clear evidence, they were more driven to find it.”
- “I was pleased at how hard the kids worked.”
- “They were essentially doing Punnett squares before my eyes in their arguments. I was able to teach Punnett squares to them right after.”
- “It is a joy to see the kids who really care to excel furrow their brows to get the job done in the fewest moves. It really encourages [students'] planning and real understanding of the logistics.”
- “The meiosis strand seemed to both challenge students and provide a sense of reward when they 'got it'.”