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I recently returned from a 2 week trip to Cuba, mainly dedicated to visit family. Brought back loads of pictures and many impressions and ideas. I was disconnected from the internet world for the duration, except three brief checks of my email and two status updates on Facebook.  As both DH and myself are news junkies, I expected serious withdrawal symptoms, but we adapted quickly to a blissful state of ignorance about issues such as the fiscal cliff. I have not been as relaxed in a long time.

Back to the real world, I conducted a phone conversation about joining the bioinformatics research program I mentioned in my previous entry. The conversation, one day after my arrival, stretched the abilities of my brain cells to almost a breaking point, but I am happy to report that I am on the list for their next workshop. Sluggishly, my mind has started to remember all the great insights I had during the ASCB conference. And emails from colleagues sharing articles and insights about science education are nudging the process along.

Enter Plants versus zombies (PvZ).

During my Gamification MOOC experience, we were directed to explore Plants versus zombies as a well-designed game with elements guaranteeing success (levels of increasing complexity, enough challenge to keep it interesting but not so hard to provoke frustration and defeat, funky badges etc). I scoffed at the idea of actually trying the game- I looked at the screenshots, read the lecture notes, and moved forward.

Then came the trip and the tablet. I decided not to bring along the Apple of my eyes, my sleek MacBook Pro, and invested in an Asus Nexus 7 tablet to cover the basics (I love it, btw). I loaded it with ebooks and music, and as I had a 14 year old nephew to meet, I asked my son to put some games on it. That’s how PvZ made it into my life.

During the first leg of the travel, my son showed me how to play the game. Within hours, I was hooked. During the coming days, I, previously so condescending of the million of Angry Bird addicts of the world, spent hours strategizing about the kind of mushroom or pea shooter to choose.  And in-between, I could see why this game was used in the gamification course as an example of a well-designed game.

My nephew already had it on his cell phone, by the way.

Back to my world of science education, I keep asking myself: how to make science courses, in particular those introductory biology courses that most instructors fear, in such a way that students would find as absorbing and challenging as a game like PvZ? Is it possible to make it so interesting but without trivializing it completely?

If anybody knows the answer, please let me know.

I got a boss to fight. Be back soon…