Educational video game created at UW–Madison earns national Public Media Awards honor

An educational video game developed at UW–Madison that allows fourth through sixth graders to explore Great Lakes shipwrecks as maritime archaeologists has put another jewel in its crown. 

The game, The Legend of the Lost Emerald, won a top prize this month at the 54th Annual Public Media Awards in a category dedicated to educational resources for classrooms. The game was designed by Field Day Lab, an education research laboratory at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) at the School of Education, in partnership with PBS Wisconsin Education, Wisconsin Sea Grant, maritime archaeologists from the Wisconsin State Historical Society, and an educator advisory group of Wisconsin teachers. 

“Games are an incredible way to show the world what research and discovery look like up close,” said David Gagnon, director of Field Day Lab.  “We have a vision to see games used as a vehicle to connect the public with contemporary research through media and this project is a testament to how successful that strategy can be.

Image of shipwreck for "The Legend of the Lost Emerald" learning game
In the game, young students use critical thinking and historical inquiry skills to recover stories about shipwrecks.

Jim Mathews, education director and associate researcher at Field Day Lab, said students are the ultimate inspiration for Field Day Lab’s efforts. 

“The biggest honor we can earn is seeing them engaged, having fun, and learning while playing a game that we created,” Mathews said.

Earlier this year, Legend of the Lost Emerald won a top prize in the 2022 International Serious Play Awards Program in Orlando, Florida.

More than 500 students in 14 Wisconsin school districts playtested the game during its development, a practice used in several Field Day Lab creations

In the game, students use the same tools, practices, and skills that maritime archaeologists use to locate and dive for shipwrecks on the Great Lakes. During game play, they uncover real treasure, utilizing and gaining skills across language arts, social studies, and technology. The game is available in English and Spanish. 

In their award submission, the game creators included testimonials from students and teachers who playtested The Legend of the Lost Emerald. 

image of ship wreck in legend of the lost emerald video game
Legend of the Lost Emerald helps students gain skills in language arts, social studies, and technology.

“I liked this game because it is mysterious, and I liked using clues to figure it out,” said a fourth grader at Hayes Bilingual School in Milwaukee.

“This project is important for so many reasons,” said Valisa Harmon, a teacher at Gilmore Fine Arts K-8 School in Racine. “Perhaps one of the most important reasons for many teachers is that it is standards-based and the connections to science, social studies, ELA and math are almost endless.”

A fourth grader at Burlington Elementary asked simply, “Can we play it again?”

The award was presented at the 2022 National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA) Conference and CPB Public Media Thought Leader Forum earlier this month. The awards were judged by a group of expert panelists from within the public media system, as well as industry professionals working outside of public media.

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