Gamified education key to boosting STEM capabilities in kids, finds study

Simon Leonard, Associate Professor of STEM Education at UniSA

Gamified education could be the key to boosting STEM capabilities in primary school students according to research from the University of South Australia which shows that it can improve spatial reasoning skills and shape positive attitudes towards STEM and design thinking. The study showed that regular use of Makers Empire – a gamified 3D computer-aided design program – can significantly improve spatial reasoning skills in up to 85% of children.

How critical is spatial reasoning in schools?

Spatial reasoning is the capacity to establish kinships between objects and understand how they interact and look from different perspectives and environments. It is a key skill for many professions, but especially important for jobs in STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths).

Working with 155 primary students (aged 11-13 years), the study assessed the use of the Makers Empire 3D design app for one 45-90-minute lesson each week, over 10 weeks.

Both boys and girls showed significant increases in three spatial reasoning skills: mental rotation, spatial orientation, and spatial visualisation. The program also boosted girls’ beliefs and abilities to master these spatial reasoning skills, lowering the gender gap from 3.5-1.9%.

What were the stakeholders’ thoughts on the study?

In Australia, women make up only 28% of the STEM workforce with the gender gaps particularly high in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the future. Mandi Dimitriadis, Director of Learning at Makers Empire says the findings are very encouraging.

“Helping younger children develop their spatial reasoning skills in a fun and engaging way is really rewarding, and we are very pleased to see the evidence for what teachers have been telling us over the years. It’s especially rewarding to see so many young girls engage with this technology and become more excited about STEM,” Dimitriadis commented.

“Supporting children’s confidence and skills in STEM is vital for their future success; we are just pleased we can play a small part in this exciting journey,” Dimitriadis further said.

UniSA’s Associate Professor Simon Leonard, says finding ways to boost children’s interest in STEM is vital for Australia’s economic prosperity. “The number of students studying STEM subjects in high school is still far too low, so it’s vital that we continue to encourage students to develop a keen interest and capability in these key areas,” Assoc Prof Leonard says.

“We’ve known for a while now that spatial thinking is one of the important ingredients to success across the STEM disciplines, and that spatial reasoning is malleable — it can be improved. By engaging children with the Makers Empire program, we not only showed improvements in students’ spatial reasoning skills, but also that the growth trajectory was greatest among students who were struggling in this area,” Prof Leonard further commented.

“Students who started with slightly lower spatial reasoning skills than their peers showed a growth trajectory three times greater than those with more developed skills. This group also reported increased enjoyability and reduced anxiety towards Digital and Design Technology.”