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A Video Game Science Project to Help People with Alzheimer's

This fifth-grade student turned personal experience with Alzheimer's and memory loss into a winning video game design science fair project that combines coding and an interest in helping the community.

Student working at a computer on a video game for a science fair project from success story about student who created a video game to help people with memory problems for the science fair

Personalized Learning with Science Fair Projects

When choosing a science project, students are more engaged when they select a project that matches a topic or area of personal interest. The more engaged students are with their projects, the more meaningful the learning experience and the more interested they may be in related STEM careers. This student combined coding, video game design, and an interest in improving the life of people with memory loss to create a winning science fair project.

Science Fair Success!
 
Student:
Roy, Fifth Grade
School:
Lake Mathews Elementary, Riverside, CA
Summary:
Roy combined interest in video games and his family's experience helping someone with Alzheimer's into a science fair project to explore how a video game might be created to help someone with memory loss.

Building a Science Project Around Personal Interest

Students arrive at their science projects in many ways. Some find projects of interest using the Topic Selection Wizard. Some know they are interested in a certain type of experiment or STEM field and find a project by browsing areas of science. Others begin their project search with a real-world problem or personal experience in mind, something they want to solve, help, or improve.

Roy, a 5th-grade student at Lake Mathews Elementary in Riverside, CA, was interested in doing a video game design project for the school science fair. A parent suggested he find a way to connect a video game with a real-world issue, so he did. Roy drew upon his family's experience with a neighbor with Alzheimer's to design and build a memory training video game. The game, built in Scratch, a drag-and-drop coding environment, centers upon a woman who has a list of items to buy at the store. The player earns points by having the character correctly identify the items from the list and return safely home.

Roy placed first in his school and district science fairs and moved on to present his project at the regional fair. He received a gold medal at the Riverside County Science and Engineering Fair, as well as a Broadcom Coding with Commitment® award from Broadcom Foundation. The Broadcom Coding with Commitment award recognizes projects that combine STEM and coding in a project that aims to solve a problem or improve one's community.

Note: Learn more about the Broadcom Coding with Commitment® award and read about other middle school coding projects that have been recognized with this award at science fairs.

When thinking through the design of his project, Roy and his family visited the Ask an Expert forums with questions about how to best position a video game project. An Expert provided Roy and his family guidance about how to approach the project either from a scientific method perspective or as an engineering design project. Explaining the ways in which these types of projects differ, the expert pointed out the project guide resources for engineering design projects and a comparison between the methods. The Expert also highlighted two projects as examples, an app development project that would be an engineering design project and a game-related project that would follow the scientific method. These examples gave Roy a concrete look at how the procedures for these types of projects differ. With this information in hand, Roy was able to move ahead designing and testing his game for the science fair.

A screen from Roy's game and Roy with display board from the science fair
Above: Left: A screen from Roy's game; Right: Roy with the project display board from the school science fair

We caught up with Roy to learn a bit more about his project and the game he created.

Was doing a science fair project required for your class? If not, what made you decide to do a project?

"Doing a science fair was not required for my class. However, I like doing projects that help me learn new skills, and participating in science fair and doing a coding project was one of the best ways to learn something new."

Have you participated in a science fair before? If so, what was your previous project?

"I have participated in Science Fair since 1st grade. Last year, my project was 'How do Aerodynamics, Weight, and the Ramp's Height Affect the Hot Wheels' Car Speed?' I used the Hot Wheels ID app to measure the Hot Wheels' speed. It was a fun project. I won at school level and won 3rd place at the School District level."

When you decided on this year's project, did you first decide you wanted to do a video game project? Or did you first decide you wanted to do a project related to memory loss and Alzheimer's?

"I love coding. I enjoy Scratch coding in my free time. So, I decided to do a coding project this year. My mom said if I [wanted] to do a computer coding project, why not create a project that supports a good cause."

What is the personal connection you have to this project?

"My family lost someone very special to Alzheimer’s disease. Her name was Ms. Erna. My family visited her often and took her grocery shopping to get what she needed during the pandemic. She forgot many items that she needed even though she had a grocery list.

I had to decide on a project for the Science and Engineering Fair at my school. I was thinking about what my mom said [about creating] a video game for a good cause. Then I was thinking about Alzheimer's disease and Ms. Erna's grocery list situation. In addition, my family always had discussions about [using] brain training like crosswords or puzzles to slow down memory loss for Ms. Erna."

In the game, the woman doesn't have to remember the grocery list. She's told at each step which item she needs and then has to select the item from the available images. So the player needs to be able to visually recall what an item looks like (not what items are needed). Why did you choose this approach?

"I learned from an Alzheimer's patient that she can easily forget what she wants to buy or sometimes can't even recognize the items. The game is like a reminder. If she is told at each step which items she needs, then she will remember and recognize the items."

Had you built any video games before doing this project?

"This was my first shared video game on Scratch."

What did you learn about the overall process of designing and coding video games that you didn't know when you started?

"I learned that coding is a lot harder and takes much longer than it seems. It was harder than I expected, but I had fun doing it. I got to design my video game, and I tested it with an Alzheimer’s patient who is our family friend."

Is this a game you would like to continue to develop? What kinds of changes or additions would you make?

"I would like to continue with my project. I would like to add more detail in the backdrops. I think making some of the items a little more recognizable would help as well. I also would like to test with as many Alzheimer’s patients as possible so I can collect more data."

Are you thinking about making other video games? Is programming or video game development something you have considered doing in the future?

"I am making more video games already, like a maze run and flappy bird. (Actually, the player looks like a cat. This is because Scratch's mascot is also a cat). I am not really sure about my career choice. Being a software engineer was something I had considered, but I am also interested in being a lawyer, scientist, structural engineer, civil engineer, or actor."

What was the best part for you about doing this science project and participating in the science fair?

"The best part for me was learning about my project and how much hard work is required for coding to complete one video game. I learned how to do a computer project which is different than a typical science project. And, of course, winning the district science fair was great!"

Do a Video Game Science Project!

Students interested in creating their own video games or apps and doing science fair projects related to video game and app design and programming, may be inspired by projects like these:

The following resources are available for students interested in exploring computer science and coding projects, using Scratch, or getting started with physical computing and Arduino:

(Note: the 25+ Coding Projects for Beginners and Beyond collection highlights projects, activities, and lessons that can be used to introduce students to computer science and coding.)

"I like doing projects that help me learn new skills, and participating in science fair and doing a coding project was one of the best ways to learn something new."
Roy, Student

Thank you to Roy and his family for sharing his science fair project story with Science Buddies.



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