Frankenstein200: An Interactive Story & STEM Experience | Touch and Go

Although published two hundred years ago, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein still generates questions concerning the ethics and boundaries of scientific exploration. Arizona State University’s Frankenstein Bicentennial Project celebrates the novel’s continued currency with an assortment of programs intended “to engage the public around issues in science, technology, and creative responsibility.” Middle schoolers are invited to explore these complexities via the free Frankenstein200, “an interactive story experience” designed to spark curiosity and encourage critical thinking in STEM topics, including artificial intelligence, robotics, and bioengineering. In a professionally produced opening video, Frankenstein200 introduces Dr. Victoria “Tori” Frankenstein, a fifth-generation descendant of the infamous inventor, and her able lab assistant, Mya. As founder of the contemporary Laboratory for Innovation & Fantastical Exploration (L.I.F.E.), Tori seeks “promising students” to study “what makes us human.” In order to access all components of the game (or lab), each player must take a Personality Test, a series of simple visually cued questions. After the Personality Test is submitted, the player (junior research assistant) receives an email invitation from Dr. Frankenstein to join the lab. Players progress through a series of levels at their own pace. Email reminders are received approximately every three days, and the experience takes about 30 days to complete. Each level starts with a video that presents new information and a challenge posed by Mya or Xavier, another research assistant. While Mya and Xavier wrestle with questions about DNA or computer coding, they convincingly appeal for help from participants with a successful combination of sincerity and silliness. Additional components include “Group Chat” and a “Feed” which expand on the themes introduced in the videos and link to related materials and virtual experiments gleaned from science museum partners. The “Athenaeum,” an encyclopedia-type resource, defines specific science related phrases included in the videos and chats. Hands-on activities, complete with step-by-step directions, are incorporated throughout and can be shared online by uploading a photo with comments.  While the online game is intended for single players, it could be used as a small group activity or as a source of ideas for classroom discussion. As intended, the reading materials are fascinating but some can be quite challenging. Teachers and parents are encouraged to participate along with students or on their own. Portions of the site are accessible without registering for the game and include easy-to-reproduce experiments, available in the Workshop section, as well as a selection of articles focused on current areas of research, such as the development of self-driving cars and attempts to bring back the woolly mammoth. Additional information on the Frankenstein200 project is available at National Informal Stem Education Network (NISE). VERDICT An engaging, in-depth program offering lesson plans and activities that can be adapted for in-school use. Of particular interest to home-schooled families.

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