Inclusion on this site is the highest recommendation of the Association for Library Service to Children, part of the American Library Association. Great Websites for Kids, a portal to a wealth of Internet-based learning opportunities, links to websites for children that cover art, music, technology, geography and mathematics as well as science.
Developed and administered by Rice’s Center for Technology in Teaching and Learning, the award-winning “CSI: Web Adventures” is based on the CBS drama “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and was initially funded by the National Science Foundation. The game appeared online in 2009. By inviting players to use scientific methods to solve murder mysteries, the site teaches them about the reality of a career in forensics. The game began its run when the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History approached Rice to create an Internet component for a CSI-themed traveling exhibit.
Leslie Miller, executive director of the Rice center, said the game draws a steady 55,000 players a month, and many offer feedback on its quality.
“We get five or 10 comments a week, and many of the comments echo a similar theme,” she said. “Players and their teachers appreciate the opportunity to role-play different STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. For example, a student wrote, ‘I never knew what a toxicologist did. Now that I know, I think I might like to be one.’
“The dual purpose of the site is to inspire careers in science and to teach more robust science than what you see on TV,” Miller said.
The website is more science-based than the TV show and its spinoffs, partly due to the early involvement of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Miller said.
The site has been updated several times over the years with the addition of more cases. There are now five cases, from “Rookie Training” for beginners to advanced investigations.
“The last two cases, ‘Fatal Interactions’ and ‘Bitter Pill,’ were funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse,” Miller said. “Through these cases, we stealthily teach about prescription drug abuse and the neuroscience involved. These cases give us a wonderful way to teach substance-abuse avoidance by embedding it in the forensics.”
The Rice center has created six science-based Web games. The latest is “Virtual Clinical Trials: Advances in Neuroscience.” Players learn what goes into a medical trial, including the advances being tested to treat spinal cord injuries, depression and traumatic brain injuries, and the careers involved.
“The intent of our games is to provide players with exposure to a wide range of science careers and the nature of scientific research,” Miller said. “Through these role-playing websites, players can insert themselves into different careers and see what it’s like to be a forensic scientist or a neurobiologist or a clinical-trials coordinator. We get kids to see their possible selves.
“The ultimate payoff will come when somebody says, ‘I’m in a STEM career now because when I was a kid, I played your games.’ That’s really what we’re hoping for.”