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The Museum of Science, Roblox, and Mission: Mars

Interested in knowing more about one of Filament’s Roblox development projects? We’re lucky to have a special guest feature for this week’s blog! We met with Christine Reich from the Museum of Science and discussed Mission: Mars, an upcoming Roblox experience created in tandem with Filament, Museum of Science, and Roblox. In the following interview, Christine talks about the inspiration behind Mission: Mars, the advantages of the Roblox platform, and breaking down barriers in STEM learning. She also notes that STEM learning is not just about science, technology, engineering, and math – it’s also about future-facing skills such as collaboration and creative problem-solving. 

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Hi Christine! To get started, please introduce yourself and tell us about your role at the Museum of Science.

I’m Christine Reich, the Jane and Payson Swaffield Chief Learning Officer at the Museum of Science. In this role, I head up the Learning and Research Division, which is the division of the museum that focuses on bringing science learning to a public audience through our exhibits, programs, immersive theaters, collections, engineering curriculum, and educational research. I’m also an adjunct lecturer for the Learning Design, Innovation, and Technology program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  

Mission: Mars is an exciting and unprecedented collaboration between the Museum of Science and Roblox. Can you give us an overview of the project? 

We are looking to engage Roblox users in an experience where they have an opportunity to be an engineer on Mars. Users will have a chance to build their own vehicle and equip it with what they need to conduct scientific experiments and survive on Mars. 

What we’re hoping for is that through this experience, users will really begin to see themselves as engineers and that they’ll start to practice engineering habits of mind, particularly the iterative design process and the idea of designing and redesigning until you achieve a certain goal. Users will start to see that engineering can be really engaging and begin to imagine a  new future for themselves.  

As we build this experience, we’re thinking about two different audiences. On one hand, we’re thinking about the children who are playing Roblox. We think we can create a really fun educational experience that can compete with many of the other entertainment experiences that exist on the Roblox platform. But we’re also thinking about an experience that can be easily integrated into classrooms and can connect with students as they do engineering design work as a part of school. 

Can you tell us more about where the idea for the experience originated?

We were originally approached by Rebecca Kantar, the Vice President of Education at Roblox, to think about ways that Roblox could become a more educational platform. Rebecca recognized that in the Museum of Science we have a long history of creating interactive learning experiences, whether it’s through our exhibits, through our nationally and internationally recognized Engineering is Elementary curriculum, or through our immersive theaters. We thought long and hard about how interaction and game-like experiences can lead to learning. It seemed like a natural progression to go from thinking about learning across all those different platforms to also thinking about learning online. 

The idea for connecting the experience to Mars came from our long history here of creating experiences with input and support from NASA. In particular, a few years ago, NASA funded a Destination Mars planetarium show, as well as corresponding units that would go into the curriculum, along with activities on our museum floor. We recognized that when you are taking people out onto another planet, it excites their imagination in a way that is much more broadening as opposed to having people think about their experiences here on earth. There’s something exciting and compelling about thinking about how we might live on another planet. 

We wanted an experience that would be visually beautiful, and we knew we could do that from some of our existing assets. We wanted an experience that would excite the imagination and where there would be some excellent, rich challenges, so this experience became a natural extension of our work and what we’re already doing. 

What are the advantages of creating Mission: Mars on the Roblox platform specifically?

There are so many! One, of course, is the broad reach that Roblox has, but what we also recognized is that there are a few different things unique to Roblox that you see on few other platforms. 

One is the social aspect of the experience. Whether we’re designing learning experiences for use in the museum or in the classroom, we’ve always designed social learning experiences, recognizing that what facilitates learning is not just the actions and activities that you’re doing but the ways in which you engage in those actions and activities with peers, friends, family members, and others. The Roblox platform has a unique social affordance that few other platforms have.  

The other thing that we thought was really important about Roblox is how you bring your avatar with you from experience to experience. Your avatar becomes an extension of yourself. What we really want for the children who participate in this experience is for them to begin to see themselves as future engineers. By having them bring their avatar into the experience they can start to see themselves as doing this work in a way that’s not possible when you don’t have that avatar. 

Another thing that’s just wonderful about Roblox is how it’s founded on a lot of different physics principles. As we’re manipulating the physics of Mars, it becomes much easier to think about the experience. We can then imagine that if we wanted to take this to another planet, or like NASA, who’s taking their exploration to asteroids or the moon, we could change out some of the physics properties in a way that makes it possible. This is easier to accomplish with Roblox than with other platforms. 

In a recent blog post, the folks at the Museum of Science mentioned that this experience aims to break down “barriers to engagement.” Can you talk more about that?

Our mission at the Museum of Science is to inspire a lifelong love of science in everyone. Our vision is to create a world where science belongs to each of us for the good of all of us. We know that there are so many barriers that stand in the way of everyone engaging in public science learning. Identity formation is certainly one barrier. If people don’t see themselves as STEM learners then they don’t participate in experiences where they do STEM learning, and it becomes a cycle. Many children are already on the Roblox platform, and even those who may not see themselves as STEM learners might be interested in this experience. We see that as a potential hook. 

We’ve also taken a lot of care as we’re designing the experience to pay attention to the inclusion of people with disabilities. It’s something that we have a long history of here at the Museum of Science, and we’re trying to make sure that our experience doesn’t pose barriers that are tied to the usability of the experience by having a narrow definition of “normal.” We want to broaden the definition of what “normal” is and include as many people as possible and reflect this in the usability of the design. 

The excitement of Mars is something that we think will attract people who may not think of themselves as STEM learners to participate in the experience. The social aspects are something else that we know is really important for engaging diverse learners, particularly those who don’t have a STEM identity. So much of the experience’s design connects to that equity lens. 

How will Mission: Mars provide a unique educational experience for users?

I think the really exciting piece here is our partnership with Filament, which has experience in thinking about educational game design. The experience also incorporates the expertise of our Planetarium Team, who’s been thinking a lot about space exploration and how to engage visitors in learning about space.  We also have the experiences of our Exhibits Team to draw from, and they have thought a lot about interactive design, particularly around ways to engage a broad population in the engineering design process. In addition, our Museum of Science Curriculum Development team has also contributed, as they have thought a lot about bringing engineering design processes into the classroom.  

As we’re designing this experience, we’re thinking about informal users, such as people who are just playing it on their own at home without classroom supports. We’re also developing a series of resources that teachers can use to deepen the learning that happens in the classroom. This is unique for us because we have very few products that we intend to span both informal and formal learning. What we’re hoping is that children will engage with this in the classroom with their teachers and have those deeper learning moments, but maybe, they’ll also be inspired to then play the experience at home. If we can get students playing the experience across both contexts that could foster greater engineering design thinking skill development in those students, and also an engineering identity. 

How do you see Mission: Mars growing or expanding in the near future? Where could users be going next in the solar system?

We don’t know where we’re going next, but we have many different ideas about possibilities for expansion. We recognize that iterating on experiences and offering new features can be a way to deepen engagement over time. 

There are so many possibilities for where we could take this experience. We could take it to other areas of Mars. Actual areas of the Martian landscape are going to be featured in the experience. There are new challenges that we could bring in from other areas. We could bring in more social experiences and greater opportunities for collaborative engineering design in the experience, or we could take it on to other planets or other objects in our solar system, such as moons or asteroids.  

One of the things that we want to do is base our future decisions on what we see kids engage in, and see where the learners take us. We’re looking forward to launching and learning from the learners as they engage in the experience to see what excites them, and what engages them and base the experience’s evolution on that data. 

Interested in developing an educational experience for Roblox? Want to create a learning game that’s out of this world? You’re in the right place – we’re an educational game developer with 17 years of experience. Reach out to us today for a free consultation!

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