By Devon M. Christman, Collin Lejano, Kaylee Laub, Liliana Garcia, Matthew Bennett, David Gonzalez-Maldonado, Tianle Liu, Grace Williams, Danielle Harlow, Diana Franklin, and Emily Edwards
The National Quantum Initiative (NQI) Act emphasizes the importance of meeting the demands of the rapidly growing quantum information science (QIS) industry (H.R.6227, 2018). The first priority listed in the act is “to expand the number of researchers, educators, and students with training in quantum information science and technology to develop a workforce pipeline” (H.R.6227, 2018). QIS leverages quantum mechanical effects for applications in computing, sensing, and communication. Quantum mechanical effects are often first introduced in undergraduate physics, computer science, or chemistry courses and requires extensive prerequisite knowledge in those fields.
This can be a barrier for those interested in QIS, which can pose an issue to expanding the QIS workforce with diverse talent as women and people of color are less likely to pursue a higher degree in a STEM field (National Science Board 2018). With upper-level STEM courses being a gateway into QIS, women and other underrepresented populations in STEM could be left behind just as the field is beginning to take off.
To make QIS more accessible, we developed five connected online games called Quander that introduce foundational QIS concepts without the traditional high-barrier prerequisites. This brief highlights the design choices of Quander, describes one game’s QIS connections, and offers recommendations to educators seeking to use the games.
The primary goal of the Quander games is to introduce QIS concepts in a way that is fun and accessible to young learners who may otherwise not have the opportunity to engage with such concepts. The games do not teach players technical physics, mathematics, or computer science, but rather introduce foundational QIS topics on a conceptual level.
We specifically wanted the games to appeal to young girls. Research in game design and gameplay found that girls tend to play puzzle-style games at a higher rate than other styles of games (Bonnano and Kommers 2005) and are more likely to play games that have pleasing aesthetics and a clear narrative (Zheng and Liu 2019). Knowing this, all five games were designed to be puzzle-style games featuring whimsical characters (see Figure 1).
The Quander games address eight fundamental concepts related to QIS outlined in Key Concepts for Future QIS Learners (see link in References) and listed in Table 1 (Edwards 2020). Instead of being directly explained, the educational content in Quander is integrated into the mechanics of each minigame and the reward system. The rewards appear as collectable cards that explicitly detail the connections between the games and QIS concepts. Each game focuses on a subset of the Key Concepts (see Table 1; Key Concept 1, a definition of Quantum Information Science, is omitted in Table 1, as all the games were designed to reflect multiple QIS concepts). One of the games, Qupcakery, is described in greater detail below.
Qupcakery uses qupcakes (quantum cupcakes) and their flavors as a metaphor for the relationship between qubits and their states and demonstrates how quantum gates affect qubits. In Qupcakery, qupcakes represent qubits, the fundamental units of information in a quantum system, much like a bit in a classical computer. While bits are either a “0” or a “1,” a qubit exists in a superposition, or combination, of both states at the same time. When a qubit is measured, its state is either only “0” or only “1” and is no longer in superposition. The connection between qupcakes and qubits is made explicit to the player in a reward card (see Figure 2).
The goal of Qupcakery is to deliver the correct order to customers. To do this, players place cooking gadgets on conveyor belts to change the flavors of the qupcakes. The cooking gadgets represent quantum gates. Gates are operations that are performed on qubits to alter their states. For example, in Figure 3 the werewolf wants a vanilla qupcake and the zombie wants chocolate; however, vanilla qupcakes are heading toward both customers. A NOT gate, which changes the flavor of the qupcake between chocolate and vanilla, can be moved onto the bottom conveyor belt to satisfy the zombie.
Later levels introduce gates that require conditions and create mystery boxes (see Figure 4).
Over 100 teachers used the Quander games with facilitation guides in celebration of World Quantum Day 2022. The facilitation guides provide connections to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core mathematics standards. Table 2 connects QIS Key Concepts, NGSS, and Common Core Standards. Key Concept 2 says, “A quantum state is a mathematical representation of a physical system, such as an atom….” Key Concept 2 relates to CCSS HS.N.VM.1 because quantum states are represented by vectors in an abstract space. Additionally, quantum states represent information about physical systems, like photons, which relates to NGSS HS-PS4-3.
A summer camp for students 12–14 years old that focused on QIS topics used Quander games to prompt discussions about QIS fundamentals. Many students commented that Quander was their favorite part of the camp. In playtesting with older students, participants reported that “the games and cards are so adorable,” which was a motivating factor to continue engaging with QIS. The games have also been used as an attraction at science festivals and county fairs. Visitors at these events spend time interacting with the games and facilitators who help scaffold QIS learning.
For educators wishing to bring QIS learning to their students through the Quander games, we offer the following advice:
With Quander, students are exposed to concepts that can build curiosity in QIS in a playful way. The potential that the Quander games provide can develop opportunities for students to meaningfully explore the rapidly expanding field. The Quander games and educator guides can be found online at https://q12education.org/quantime and https://www.canonlab.org/quander to be used in celebration of World Quantum Day on April 14, 2023.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 2115780 and 2115843.
Devon M. Christman is a PhD candidate, Collin Lejano is an undergraduate student, Kaylee Laub is a PhD student, Liliana Garcia is a PhD student, Danielle Harlow is a professor, and Matthew Bennett is a PhD student, all at the University of California - Gevirtz Graduate School of Education in Santa Barbara, California. David Gonzalez-Maldonado is a PhD student, Tianle Liu is a MPCS graduate, Grace Williams is a PhD student, and Diana Franklin is an associate professor, all at the University of Chicago College in Chicago. Emily Edwards is the Executive Director of IQUIST at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.
Bonanno P., and P.A.M. Kommers. 2005. Gender differences and styles in the use of digital games. Educational Psychology 25 (1): 13–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/0144341042000294877
Edwards, E. 2020, May 13. Key concepts for future QIS learners 5-20 - files.webservices.illinois.edu. Key Concepts for Future QIS Learners. https://files.webservices.illinois.edu/9156/keyconceptsforfutureqislearners5-20.pdf
National Science Board. 2018. Chapter 3: Science and engineering labor force. NSF. https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2018/nsb20181/report/sections/science-and-engineering-labor-force/women-and-minorities-in-the-s-e-workforce.
Text – H.R.6227 – 115th Congress (2017–2018): National Quantum Initiative Act. (2018, December 21). https://www.congress.gov/
Zheng, Q., and L. Liu. 2019. What drives female players’ continuance intention to play mobile games? the role of aesthetic and narrative design factors. Communications in Computer and Information Science 96–103. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-23528-4_14
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