March 22-25, 2006
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Papers: Backyard Animal Travel Adventure:
Science Challenges in Crafting a Museum Learning Game

Hai Kyung Min and Carrie Heeter, Michigan State University, USA


Crafting a learning game with scientific content is challenging in many ways. The two major challenges were getting content for the game and working with museum professionals and scientists. Scientific information for the game content could not be simply provided by the museum scientists. We, as the designers, discovered that studying content and becoming semi-expert in the content domain is necessary for game designers. Scientists' help worked out better when they took on roles of verifying content and providing feedback at different stages, rather than providing the scientific facts for the designers. The process of content research and creating game experience came together while the designer was getting more and more knowledge of the content domain.

Child visitor observation and teacher interviews helped the designers to establish specific purposes for the game and to narrow down the content focus. The challenge was the tension between creating fun and keeping the game scientific. In this sense, museum professionals' feedback at different stages of production was often demanding, as well as helpful. Designers needed skills to design effective communication processes during the production while trying to wrap the scientific contents with fun elements and not downplay the scientific facts.

Keywords: animal, diversity, adaptation, science and game, museum learning

Working with scientific content in game development requires effort and delicate consideration. Finding appropriate content and game mechanics to wrap around that content was the biggest challenge of the game design process. Museum professionals and scientists were very helpful but also were very demanding.

Challenge 1: The Search for Content

Content research took much longer than we expected. As many designers do, we first assumed we could simply ask the museum professionals for the content. But it turned out that active content research is required for game designers.

National And State Science Standards

After examining the National and Michigan Science Standards related to adaptation and evolution, we discovered they are far too general to provide any particular approach to game design or game content. The standards are pure abstraction. Furthermore, the standards provide neither specific examples nor enough scientific knowledge to use to create a learning game.

Linking Closely To Museum Exhibits

The purpose of the Backyard Animal Travel Adventure is to support the educational role of the MSU museum, especially in the two halls - Habitat Hall and Hall of Animal Diversity. Because children's reading abilities and cognitive abilities develop and change as they mature, the exhibit companion was designed to focus on a limited age range. Children in 2nd through 3rd grades or of age 7 to 8 are the primary target audience. Observation of children and interviews of teachers focused on this age level. The goals of theses included:

  • Finding out what the children's experience is like in the museum
  • Specifying the purpose of the game
  • Narrowing down the content based on the specified purpose of the game

Child Visitor Observations and Interviews


Only one family was observed at a time. The subjects were not assigned any task other than to look around the museum as they do normally. Their public behaviour was observed. The researcher did not interrupt the child during the observation. Observations were organized based on a list of observation categories which were prepared in advance. No demographic nor personal information was included in the notes except for a child's age, grade and gender. The researcher made up a pseudonym to use in taking notes and writing about each child.

Each observation session began at the entrance of the museum by getting consent from the parent or guardian and assent from any children in the family and ended when the family finished looking at the Habitat Hall and Hall of Animal Diversity. After each observation, brief interviews were conducted.

After they were done exploring the Habitat Hall and Hall of Animal Diversity, the children were asked some questions about their experience at the museum and their understanding of the display. First they were asked what they thought the Habitat Hall and Hall of Animal Diversity is about. Then they were asked to take the interviewer to the displa y that they thought interesting in those two halls and explain why. If there was more than one child in a family, each child answered the first question in turn. Then each child in turn took the observer and the rest of the family to the interesting display and explained why it was interesting.

This research was conducted with a small number of subjects, because the project and research was a master's thesis. A total of 5 families were observed at the MSU Museum. These families included 7 children (5 girls and 2 boys). The chart below lists the number of children by family, age, grade and gender.

Table 1. Child Subjects for observations and interviews Findings from Child Observations at the MSU Museum

Table 1. Child Subjects for observations and interviews

Findings from Child Observations at the MSU Museum

Approach Pattern

Who approached an exhibit first, kids or adults? Together or separately?

Usually kids approached the exhibits first. If the family was big, families sometimes split into a couple of groups but still stayed in the same general space. If the family was small, they stayed together interacting. One child, Jeanne, traveled alone most of the time, apart from her grandparents.

Travel Pattern

Did the child go to exhibits in a spatial order, or more randomly?

Travel patterns seemed to depend on the personality of the kids. As time went by, the tendency of random travel increased. Even when going one by one, child visitors skipped some objects, just passing by.

Interaction between Kids / with Adults

Did the children interact with the adults they were with? How often and about what?

Most kids were saying something all the time, but they interacted with the adult they were with rather with other kids in their family group. Kids wanted to show what they knew, getting feedback from adults. Girls tended to ask questions and ask the adults to read the signs and digest the content for them. Boys were more independent in learning and were eager to show what they knew. One boy (Liam) even tried to teach his parents based on what he learned from the signs. There was more interaction between kids when they were sisters, than when they were brother and sister.

Some adults actively involved themselves in teaching the kids, while other adults were rather enjoying the exhibits for themselves. Apparently kids were more engaged when the adult kept interpreting the signs and explaining things. But when the adult simply read the sign as it was without adding any interpretation, kids were not engaged as much, even though the adult was very willing to teach. This might be partly because the signs weren't written at the kids' levels. When there is little interaction between kid and adult (Jeanne's case), the attentiveness and engagement with exhibits decreased a lot and the visit time was much shorter. But Jeanne after all created her own play scheme - she connected everything to her toy snake and paid more attention to snakes.

Exhibits Children Spent A Long Time At

Every kid loved the birds' eggs of three different sizes (mini, medium, jumbo) Many kids were interested in baby, small, and very large eggs. Kids tended to spend more time at the objects with which they found a personal connection or had prior experience. Three families were given animal toys by the researcher as an incentive for participating, and the kids paid more attention to the animals in the exhibits which related to the toys. For example, the kids who were given a turtle pendant paid more attention to turtles and observed them closely, comparing them with the turtle pendant. Jeanne created her own observation scheme based on her snake toy. Also most kids showed interest in the backyard animals that are familiar to them.

Finding hidden animals at the Habitat Hall was the most loved activity by kids. Kids seemed eager to find "things to do" and they wandered to most parts of the museum not knowing "what to do" with the many different objects. Finally, as soon as they noticed that they could do the "finding hidden animals" activity at the Habitat Hall, they were quickly engaged. They looked delighted at the fact that they could actually do something at the museum.

All the kids who visited the Michigan Heritage Room showed interest in the Log Jams. They showed interest in the story in that room and the fact that the activity is "dangerous". A huge collection of butterflies and moths was also one of the favourite exhibits.

Attention to Content / Read signs?

How much attention was paid to museum interpretive signs? In what way?

Kids' excitement was more about the individual animals, rather than the content behind them - the big picture.

Generally adults read the signs for kids rather than kids themselves reading them. Liam tried to read signs for himself when he got curious about any object. But it seemed Liam didn't get answers from them. His curiosity was mainly about the individual animals, not about the big picture, diversity, survival, adaptation, or environment change. Neither did the parents pay much attention to the content as a whole. Apple and Danny talked about the shape, name and colours but didn't talk much about what they mean and didn't relate the individual animal's characteristics to diversity or adaptation. Brooklyn and Amy were constantly asking their father to read the signs for them. Instead of simply reading aloud, he explained in his own word at the kids' level and based on his understanding and interest after he read the signs. Also he asked questions so kids could think and answer. Even though his interpretation was not particularly deep, at least this approach kept the kids engaged and curious. Jeanne, who was traveling alone apart from the grand parents ,didn't get a chance to be exposed to the content at all. She didn't read the signs.

Overall, kids never got the big ideas of the exhibits. Some kids showed interest in the content, asking questions such as "What is this about?" "What is this for?" but those kids got a partial idea related to some particular animals, instead of getting the big idea behind the different exhibits as a whole.

Findings from Child Interviews at the MSU Museum

Kids' answers during the interviews were not what the researcher had expected in most cases. When asked about favourite exhibits, some kids mentioned things they didn't seem to pay attention to. kids seem to make up the answers, rather than answering based on real reflection. But interviews were another way to tease out kids' thoughts, since they mentioned things they didn't think about during the museum visit.

Q1. What is the reason for having these two rooms (The Hall of Animal Diversity and the Habitat Hall)? What are they about?

Four kids answered "Animals". Some other kids answered with some specific animals such as "World's smallest deer" or "birds". No one mentioned diversity, adaptation, or the content-related words.

Q2. Show me a display you liked in those two rooms. Please take me to the display.

Why did you like it? Tell me what you liked about it.

Two kids mentioned birds eggs as the favourite. Others picked the "World's smallest deer" and birds of beautiful colour, such as blue jays or scarlet tanagers, which many kids liked.

Kids liked their favourite animals mainly because of appearance; Jeanne liked butterflies because they are "colourful". Brooklyn liked blue jays because she "likes blues". Apple liked the white fox because it is "pretty, fuzzy, and white". Danny thought the "world's smallest deer" was "cool" because it is "small".

Kids tended to pick the recently viewed animals as their favourites.

Q3. Did you have any question about the display? If "Yes", what did you want to know about?

Liam wondered, What would happen if the dinosaurs hit him. Danny wondered, how small their (the world's smallest deer) babies are.

Q4. Which animal or animals are interesting to you? Why?

Jeanne picked kangaroo because she "likes her (kangaroo's) long eyelashes". Amy thought "the orange bird" (Scarlet Tanager) because she likes the colour. Liam, who talked about his experience of having seen the real eagles with his father, thought the eagles were interesting.

Q5. Do you know what adaptation means?

Only Danny knew it. It seemed he already knew it before he came to the museum. He said adaptation means "made for where it lives. Cactuses are adapted for desert".

Teacher Interviews


Because the target child age group was 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade children, teachers of these grades who bring their classes on science field trips to the MSU Museum were sought for interviews. Two second grade teachers and one third grade teacher who teach all the core subjects were interviewed. One of the teachers wasn't teaching science but she was at the museum with a science teacher.

Recruiting started in January 2005 and it was not easy to find subjects. Kris Morrissey at the MSU museum helped to find 2 teacher participants but when the summer break began in May, there were no elementary classes coming to the museum and it was very hard to contact teachers through their office phones and e-mails. Eventually after no success, the curator of the Michigan 4-H Children's Gardens at MSU was approached to try to find a teacher of those grades who brought classes to the garden for science field trips. Dr. Norm Lownds at the Michigan 4-H Children's Gardens referred us to a teacher who had visited the Children's garden with her class. During the interview she mainly talked about the trip with her elementary class to 4H Children's Garden focusing on learning about habitats in the garden, which overlapped well with the subject of the MSU museum's Habitat Hall. Also she recalled a field trip to the MSU museum with preschool kids several years earlier.

The interviews asked mainly about how teachers plan for field trips, the nature of learning when they take their classes to museums, and what challenges they have teaching at/with museums.

Teachers could choose whether to be interviewed in person or by written survey. Two teachers chose the written survey and one teacher chose an in-person interview. All three teachers were female.

Table 2. Subjects for Teacher Interviews Findings

Table 2. Subjects for Teacher Interviews Findings

Goals at the Animal Diversity Hall / Habitat Hall

For the class field trip, Sheila, a second-grade teacher, focused on habitats and what animals needed to survive. She wanted her students to explore examples of habitats to notice what was the same and what was different.

Elizabeth who also teaches second grade focused on the relationship between the animals and the relationship between the animals and their environment. Maryann, the third grade teacher, planned the museum field trip to reinforce what was taught during the year (camouflage, skeletal construction, similarities " differences of animals, habitats).

Instructional Objectives

The two second-grade teachers had instructional objectives in the field trips. To reinforce prior lessons and readings about habitat, Elizabeth focused on viewing the actual animal specimens and seeing how big they were and how they camouflaged themselves. Sheila focused on fossils and the evidence they provide.

Maryann didn't have specific instructional objectives other than reinforcement of previously taught information.

Prior Lessons Or Activities

All the three teachers scheduled prior lessons or activities in class before the field trip.

Sheila and Maryann had the students complete science unit/animal study in class on habitats, changes over time, life cycles, means of protection for reproduction, extinction, animal self protection, adaptation, etc.

Elizabeth had a lesson about relationships/dependencies. Her class had a discussion about the kids' prior knowledge. Reading Groups have been focused on the theme of animals - "Creepy Crawly Creatures", "Lifecycles of butterflies" (Kids were especially interested in colours during the museum trips), "Ants". This teacher also had outdoor activities prior to the museum visit - class neighbourhood/woodlot walks - turning over logs, pond samples… looking at and discussing habitats.

Tasks Given During The Museum Visit

All the teachers gave tasks to their class. The tasks were various. Some were specific questions given to groups and others open-ended tasks such as recording impressions.

One second-grade teacher, Sheila, gave groups of students a series of questions to answer at key displays. Students were required to list items, compare and contrast and read displays to search for answers to questions.

Elizabeth had the students record impressions, draw what they see, write questions they're curious about, to be researched upon classroom return.

Maryann, who did not have extensive info about the MSU museum, required students to locate specific things (largest animal viewed, smallest, best hidden by habitat, extinct animals, etc).

Post-Visit Activities

Elizabeth and Maryann had in-class post-visit activities but Sheila simply finished the day with a discussion of what was learned, favourite display, etc.

As post-visit activities, Maryann had the following:

  • Written " oral discussions
  • Students wrote one question to ask the class relating to something they learned
  • 10 word report on trip

Elizabeth planned the following:

  1. Children would help to create a habitat in the classroom and would then bring in stuffed animals and puppets to live there
  2. Children would create murals for various environments.
  3. Stories would be written from various habitat perspectives.
  4. Class discussion - referring back to KLW chart.

Benefits of Taking the Class to Museums

Sheila answered that the best thing is seeing exhibits that connect to what the kids have read in a book and providing relevance to the real world.

Elizabeth took the excitement when a creature is found as the best part - hearing things like: "I didn't know that…" "Look at that…"

Maryann took the information learned at the museum as the benefit. But her third-grade students had few previous visits to any kind of museum and so she focused on helping create more interest in the children in requesting another museum trip.

Students' Learning, Interest, and things they remember from the Diversity Hall

Sheila answered that the three-dimensional, life-like displays captured kids' attention. She also found that kids seem to remember the displays that connect with something they already knew or had read about. And her finding is consistent with the findings from the child observation: prior knowledge or prior experience affected the kids' interest in and appreciation of the exhibits.

Maryann said kids showed most interest in the large wall display of different types of butterflies - They discussed the size, colour, and shapes - this display proved to impress the majority of the class.

Elizabeth mentioned that kids showed interest in finding a camouflaged animal and in how crafty an animal of prey must be.

Students' Feeling About a Museum Field Trip

Sheila answered kids love to get out of the classroom to learn.

Elizabeth said the children enjoy feeling the pelts, artifacts, etc. She said they are impressed with the largeness of the hall and the dioramas within.

Maryann, whose class had little prior experience at museums, said that the vast majority of students expressed their enthusiasm and wanted to visit another museum. She thought the size of the MSU museum is great for a 1st time visit. It was not overwhelming yet had so much info and displays.

Challenges in Bringing a Field Trip to the Museum

The biggest challenge for Sheila was keeping students from running. In their excitement they quickly moved through the museum.

Maryann said that proper preparation relating to information appropriate to 3rd graders was the challenge. She said their next trip to MSU will be more beneficial because they, as teachers, will know the expectations.

Meaningful Experiences

Sheila thought it's great to have them talk about the trip and remember key points weeks after being there.

Maryann mentioned that students' interest and enthusiasm was great. Her class went from one exhibit to another so they would not miss anything - and after the initial "Walk thru" went back for a more thorough look and explanation.

Elizabeth said that in viewing the rain forest habitat the children were amazed by the size of the insects and how plentiful they are. She said they had great discussions about why they are so much larger than insects in Michigan.

Creating Storyline and Paper and Pencil Prototype

Observing children in the target age range of 1st to 3rd grade visiting the museum with their families showed that children hardly pay attention to or understand the contents of the two halls as a big picture. Kids remembered specific animals but didn't recall much about what the animals' appearances and behaviours do for their lives. Based on these observations, we decided to focus on creating a learning game experience that will help kids to look at the big picture and will help them to pay attention to the "whys of the animals' characteristics beyond simple isolated reactions to interesting features of animals.

When the specific goal was set, a brief storyline of the game and the paper prototype were developed. But we realized that this stage wasn't possible before we, as designers, attained extensive understanding of the content domain, because the designer cannot "cook" (design) without understanding the "ingredients" (contents). At this stage of prototype, the game designer extensively researched the museum exhibits and the signs. Every animal in the two halls was photographed and copies of all the signs were filed along with the photographs. Web searches were conducted on each animal to add more information. This process gave an extensive understanding of the content and the design of the two halls. Through the research, the designer walks through the learning process and can obtain insights into how to design the game as a learning experience.

Writing The Script

Next step of the brief storyline and paper prototype was to write the actual script. This stage, of course, required even more extensive and intensive content research. Even though museum scientists are the content experts, it wasn't possible that they "serve" the contents "ready to eat" for designers for several reasons. Most of all, creating the script and understanding scientific content cannot be separated. Writing the game script was a process that developed along with the designer's learning process of the content domain. In other words, we didn't know exactly what kind of information we would need until we got to learn about the subject. While we studied the content, we got many ideas on how to handle the information so it fit the goal of the game and was age-appropriate and interesting to kids. In addition, we were continuously refining and refocusing the direction our content research had to go as the game play emerged. Script writing is an iterative process with numerous cycles of reflection, correction, and redesign. This iteration would not have been possible without the designers' thorough understanding of the science. Also, the kind of info we needed for our games was not what scientists have in their brains in many cases. We were looking for lots of specific details about particular animals and habitats. Getting the answers would take time even for an expert. They would be faster than a designer but still would need to spend considerable time looking up facts.

However, the content experts' role was still invaluable. We asked specific questions rather than asking for broad information. We consulted with the museum professionals including scientists at the museum at different stages of production. They verified that the content is correctly used and provided valuable suggestions and corrections. Most of all, their references to useful resources on the subject domain were very useful and helped the content research to be more accurate and effective.

A successful multimedia designer who works in the interdisciplinary project and deals with science should become semi-expert in the related field, even though s/he might have enter the project as a novice. S/he should never take it easy or attempt to be lazy when it comes to content research. The more s/he learns about the contents, the better learning experience s/he can design. The designer is certain to end up getting much more knowledge than will actually be used in the project; all the extra knowledge provides a concrete foundation for the game to be more scientific. The project Backyard Animal Travel Adventure is truly an interdisciplinary one dealing with science as well as working with educational theories and classic multimedia production issues such as art design and usability. The designer was destined to be at the center of everything, including the content, as shown in Figure 1.

Fig 1: Game Designer in Interdisciplinary Projects

Fig 1: Game Designer in Interdisciplinary Projects

Challenge 2: Working With Museum Professionals and Scientists

In working with museum professionals and scientists, our main concern was how scientific the game content is. The game had to convey accurate scientific information and as well be fun. Also the scientists' experience with children helped the design a lot. Meetings and correspondence with museum professionals and scientists provided fresh perspectives and valuable feedback. Differences of perspective reflected in some of the feedback were challenges as well, in different stages of design.

Stage 1: Paper and Pencil Prototype

At this stage, we tried to get the overall concept and flow of the game verified by showing the paper and pencil prototype. Shown in Figure 2, it visualizes what one unit of the small game would look like.

Paper and pencil prototype Paper and pencil prototype Paper and pencil prototype Paper and pencil prototype Paper and pencil prototype Paper and pencil prototype

Figure 2: Paper and pencil prototype

Science Isn't Magic!

There is natural tension between trying to make a game fun and being scientifically accurate. The game designer wants simple, repeatable interactions that smooth over details. The scientist wants detailed explanations and reality-based, realistic experiences. The basic premise of our game story was a source of consternation: backyard animals hold a conversation, talking about how they want to travel to far off places. The player takes each animal to its dream destination where it encounters some kind of threat or danger because it is not well adapted to that exotic environment.

While Dr. Morrissey at the MSU museum liked the story, she was concerned about using the concept of "magical transformation of animal body", because it could muddle science and fantasy. While we didn't think that use of the magical element itself is a problem, we thought we needed to separate scientific facts and fantasy explicitly. We decided to use a "magic wand", which is an explicitly unrealistic object, for the magical transformation, instead of simple magic.

The player uses a magic wand to change the backyard animal into one of two similar animals to save it from danger. Scientists were resistant to talking, traveling animals and magic wands. However, once they saw the prototype implemented, these objections subsided. The story motivates the game learning, adding an element of fun that is far enough outside everyday life that few will think of it as anything but imaginary in the game.

Photoreal and Cartoon Game Art

After considerable experimentation we decided to use actual photographs for the habitat backgrounds and for the two alternate animal bodies for each of the exotic habitat challenges the traveling animal encounters. Only the backyard animal characters themselves are hand drawn (based closely on photographs). This allows the animal characters to be animated and fun. Using photoreal habitat backgrounds makes these exotic environments feel more real and potentially be more recognizable than if they had been drawings.

To help separate reality and fantasy even more, we created a cartoon background for the magical transition, as opposed to the real picture backgrounds for the rest of the game. Also, separated cut scenes with a white background focused on the scientific explanation of each animal's adaptation.

Stage 2. Content Skeleton Table

After the prototype, we conducted more intensive content research as mentioned earlier. Based on the collected knowledge and information about animal adaptations, we created a table of core contents as shown in Table 3 and had it reviewed by Dr. Morrissey and Jim Harding, the museum scientist.

Table 3: Example of the Content Skeleton Table

Table 3: Example of the Content Skeleton Table

After the review, Jim Harding corrected some vague or incorrect content and provided information about more possible life-threatening and interesting challenges in the exotic habitats for the backyard animals. Also we replaced some animals to be used in the game based on his feedback. His input definitely enriched the content and made it more concrete. After the table was finalized and ready for the script, he kept responded to specific questions during the script writing.

Jim Harding's input based on his experience in children's education also helped us to improve the experience of the game player. He pointed out that kids could get lost when they faced each challenge without prior knowledge of each backyard animal. For example, the Eastern Garter Snake, a backyard snake, would have problems finding food when it traveled to the desert, because it usually lives in wet places and eats animals that can be found near water, such as frogs. But a game player - a kid who didn't know those characteristics of Eastern Garter Snakes - might not notice such problems. Thus, we decided to add a self-introduction of each animal with relevant information needed during the game.

Stage 3. Game Production

In order to complete the production, we had to stop interacting with the scientists and museum professionals. The concerns they raised tended to completely change the production. After some time spent listening and taking their concerns into account, we had to move to production mode, trying to keep "what they would probably say if we asked them" in mind. The game designer's thesis director also was quite knowledgeable about animal adaptation because she had recently completed an evolution game that required extensive scientific information. She too discovered that it was essential for her and her design team to learn the science. Her budget for science consultants would never have paid for the amount of content research she had to do to complete her game. And she found it impossible to create game play without deep science understanding.

Now that the Backyard Animal Travel Adventure game is produced, we are showing it to museum professionals. If they are happy enough with it "as is," then they can begin to use it right away. If not, we will negotiate required changes.

Sample Script

Here is an example of script and associated screenshots from one of the six sub-games.

Scarlet Tanager (female): Hello, I am a Scarlet Tanager. I like tall deciduous woods which are common in Michigan, and I sometimes make my nest in wooded parks and large shade trees near humans' houses. Have you wondered where all the scarlet tanagers are during the winter? When the weather starts to get cold, I fly to the south where it's nice and warm. During winter, I live far away in the treetops of Central and South America.

(Animation with map) Screenshot2-1

Screenshot 2-1

I am a female scarlet tanager and my body is olive green above and yellow below. And I have dark wings and tail. Male scarlet tanagers have a different color during the summer. Their bodies turn red like this handsome bird to attract females like me.


Screenshot 2-2

So - now can I tell you where I want to travel? I want to go to Alaska. I met a bird that flew from Alaska. She said she left Alaska to get away from the cold winter weather, but she said Alaska is a beautiful place. Can you take me there and help me to learn how the birds in Alaska survive? For sure, I will need your help with your magic wand in Alaska!

Narration: Click on the "Let's Go" button at the bottom, when you're ready to travel.

#Tundra (with Scarlet Tanager)

(Pan: the scenery of Alaska in winter. Narration voice-over on the scenery of Alaska)

Narration: Welcome to Alaska. It is December, winter season. Alaska is very far north. It is very very cold. Let's see the thermometer. Oh... it is -33° F now! And the winter is very long.


Screenshot 2-3

(Pan: Show the scarlet tanager walking on the frozen land)

Scarlet Tanager: What a beautiful place!… I would live here if it were not cold…

Music: (Scary music)

(Black shadow passing on scarlet tanager)

Scarlet: What… was… the… shadow…? (Looks up the sky) Oh, no! A hawk! I have to hide! I have to hide! Can I hide under the bush? Oh, no! My olive colour is too easy to spot here! (Looking at the front) Help me! Use your magic wand!!! Now!

Screenshot 2-4

Screenshot 2-4

Music: (Volume up)

(Black shadow keeps flying over the head of the scarlet tanager)

*Task 1

-Choice 1: Graphic - A part of White-front Parrot

-Choice 2: Graphic - A part of Willow Ptarmigan's body ← correct choice

Narration: (spoken in an urgent tone) Now you have to choose better feather clothes for the bird to avoid a hawk attack. Which do you think would save the bird from the danger? Do you think the green body with red and blue stripe on the wing would work better? Or do you think the white feathers would help? Click on the bird that you think could hide better from the hawk's attack.

Screenshot 2-5

Screenshot 2-5


-If wrong:

Sound Effect: (The scarlet tanager transforms to a white-front parrot in the magical transition. Sound effects flow during the transformation, in a kid's voice): Change the body, but not the mind. Make me an animal of a different kind!

Screenshot 2-6

Screenshot 2-6

(Hawk shadow approaches the bird rapidly)

Bird: Oh, no! This doesn't work! The hawk found me! Help~~! (Screen stops. Grey overlay on the screen.)

Narration: What you chose was the feather of the white-front parrot that lives on the Amazon. The green, red, and blue colour of the white-front parrot won't help the bird to hide on land covered with white snow. So, the better answer was the bird with white feathers.

#Back to the choice screen

Narration: Let's give the white feather clothes to the scarlet tanager. Click on the white bird.

-If right:

Sound Effect: (The scarlet tanager transforms to a Willow Ptarmigan in the magical transition. Sound effects flow during the transformation, in a kids' voice): Change the body, but not the mind. Make me an animal of a different kind!

(When the bird has finished its body change, there is a zoom out from the land. The hawk shadow on the sky stops moving and it zooms in)

Hawk: (Blink the eyes) Hmmm… I thought I saw something moving down there… But now I don't see it! Well, that is weird. I have VERY good eyesight.

(Overhead long-take of the tundra, and then zoom in to the ground. As the screen zooms in, you see the white bird.)

Bird: Wow! The white colour was so useful to deceive the hawk. I can easily hide on this white land when I have white feathers. But I look quite different now. Whose body did I you change me into?

Screenshot 2-7

Screenshot 2-7

Narration: Click on the question mark to find out. (A question mark floats on the screen)

#Cut Scene

Narration: The white body is of the bird called willow ptarmigan. (Illustration) It is not easy to find this white bird against a snow-covered background. This way of hiding by blending in with the background is called "camouflage". So we can say, the white colour of the willow ptarmigan provides great camouflage in snowy Alaska.

Screenshot 2-8

Screenshot 2-8

-Bird: I really like the willow ptarmigan. Look! I also have feathers on my legs and feet. I feel warmer now with ptarmigan's body. But what if summer comes? Alaska is not all white during the summer. Then the ground is gray and brown!! (Animation of the imagination: ptarmigan staying on the next spring and a hawk in the sky) I am so worried!!


The authors would like to thank Dr. Kris Morrissey at MSU Museum for the strong support throughout the development of the project and for all the constructive inputs she brought in. The information from the teacher interviews was invaluable, and this would not have been possible without their help. Jim Harding, one of the scientists at MSU museum helped greatly with content of the game at various stages of the project. Judy Smyth, coordinator of visitor programs at MSU museum and Dr. Norm Lownds at Michigan 4-H Children's Garden helped us to find teachers for interviews. We would also like to thank all the great voice actors/actresses for their volunteering.

Cite as:

Min K., and Heeter C., Backyard Animal Travel Adventure: Science Challenges in Crafting a Museum Learning Game, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2006: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2006 at http://www.archimuse.com/mw2006/papers/min/min.html