5AM Solutions hasn't ever published a holiday gift-giving guide despite our belief that nothing says "Season's Greetings!" quite like the biolocator. Joking aside, as software developers and scientists, we know that innovation is fun and that gaming can be a powerful vehicle for learning and discovery.
A 2008 study found that low-income preschoolers who played about an hour of a numbers-based board game showed significant gains in numerical proficiency. Nine weeks later, the kids had retained those gains. The same study points out that even more than early reading predicts future proficiency with text, early math proficiency carries over into future adeptness with numbers. These glimpses into the way that we learn via early, engaging exposure bodes well for future innovation.
A middle school science teacher from Missouri developed a game called Linkage: A DNA Card Game, which is designed to teach players (ages 10 and up) about genetics, and specifically about DNA transcription. Playing the game doesn't require a scientific background, and, in fact, the point is to teach science in a way that draws you into a theoretical space using colorful, concrete examples that change up every time you play.
Game creator, John Coveyou, says it best in an article in Nautilus: "Learning is an unavoidable consequence of playing."
Gamification isn't just for the future of innovation. It is presently driving discoveries. For instance, Phylo offers online puzzles that take advantage of the power of crowd-sourcing and gamification to get to the root of genetic diseases like diabetes.
Games can further discovery by allowing researchers to test hypotheses on very large sample sizes. Last August, Science reported on a crowd-sourced neurology experiment which had tremendous success recruiting subjects. The investigators created a game that was downloaded onto more than 40,000 smartphones and which about 20,000 people played at least once. The researchers found that the data collected from the gamers was as good as that collected in a controlled lab environment.
Besides inspiring future scientists, gamification has another upside: increasing the public's awareness of the relevance of scientific study to their own lives. Lay scientific literacy goes a long way toward helping citizens make informed decisions in their doctors' offices as well as in the voting booth.
It is unlikely that we'll publish a holiday gift guide, but we'd encourage you to consider gifting yourself or your loved ones with a little science.
Image: RNA Cards from Linkages: A DNA Card Game.