MIT STEP offers a teacher licensing program that can be done entirely at MIT or in conjunction with courses at Wellesley College. This program licenses students to teach mathematics or science in grades 5-12. The Scheller Teacher Education Program, offered through the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, prepares MIT students to become teachers who are competent to teach in their field, willing to challenge established norms, able to bridge the boundaries among disciplines, and eager to help students develop the desire to question and explore. Click here for more info on STEP and here for more info on classes.
STEP is actively engaged in many research and development projects, designing and testing new learning technologies for use in formal and informal education. While some projects are in limited testing with partners, others are freely available for all to try and to use (some complete with curriculum and assessment). Find out more about these projects on the projects page.
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Palmagotchi combines the ideas of virtual pets (such as the popular Tamagotchi toy) and the evolutionary story of Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands. Players maintain families of birds and islands of flowers. They monitor and feed birds in order to keep them alive. They also mate their birds with other players’ birds in order to get offspring with desirable traits that maximize their chances of surviving various hazards in the game.
All of the birds and flowers in Palmagotchi are endowed with a number of genetically determined traits. Each trait is additively influenced by a small number of copies of the same gene. This means traits are not simply present or absent (e.g., red or white flowers) but rather they are continuous, spanning a whole spectrum (e.g., height of a flower). Flowers have genetic characteristics including color, flower length, and pollen type. Birds have genetic characteristics including size, metabolic rate, flight speed, beak length and flower color preference. Some of these characteristics interact: for example, birds’ beak lengths determine which flowers they can feed from, according to flower length; similarly birds’ color preferences determine which flowers they can feed from.
All of the abovementioned characteristics use a simplified model such that they are determined entirely genetically, meaning there is no variation contributed by the environment. There are, however, dynamic attributes that do change over time. Dynamic attributes are influenced by a combination of time, random events, genetic traits, and the input and actions of players. For flowers, these attributes are amounts of pollen and nectar that birds can pick up when they forage. For birds, they are age and energy (depleted by mating and metabolism, and increased by foraging for nectar).
The game is paced to require interactions every three to four hours so as not to disrupt classes, yet create some sense that the players must be vigilant to keep their organisms alive and well. Each interaction is designed to present the player with data that she can use to inform her decisions, though the only way that the player learns how this data maps on to success is through experience.