Tag Archive for: MIT

affiliates help smithsonian and MIT solve mysteries

Helping the Smithsonian solve a mystery about a fictitious environmental disaster – doesn’t that sound like fun? 

A preview look at the Vanished site, a curated alternate-reality game

Smithsonian scientists have teamed up with MIT’s Education Arcade to engage middle-school students to do just that, in an online alternate-reality game.   Vanished will kick off on April 4 at vanished.mit.edu.  In the course of 8 weeks, students ages 11-14 from all over the country will collect clues on- and off-line, and form a scientific community to help Smithsonian scientists test hypotheses and solve this mystery.  Thanks to the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies, a range of scientists from entomologists to paleontologists will host videoconference sessions with players, mentoring them through their scientific discoveries.  (Read more in this USA Today article.)

Where will students collect the real data from their hometowns, to share with Smithsonian scientists?  Many will look to their local Affiliate for clues.  According to MIT game designer Caitlin Feeley, “a kid in Kansas could go to the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson and bring back information on space exploration, and a kid in North Carolina could go to the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, walk through their incredible diorama, and bring back information on how a lost species massively affected an entire ecosystem.”  In fact, 17 Affiliate museums are partnering with the Smithsonian and MIT to offer clue-gathering opportunities for gamers.  “The Aerospace Museum of California is excited to partner with the Smithsonian and MIT in this unique educational opportunity,” says Linda Payne, the Museum’s Education Director.  “We are certain that Vanished will stimulate students’ interest in scientific exploration and problem solving.”

The game, made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation, hopes to capitalize on the popularity of shows such as CSI to offer a specific kind of scientific problem-solving for students.  “The kids are actually doing science,” says Elizabeth Cottrell, Smithsonian geologist and director of the Smithsonian’s global volcanism program.  “They are going to have the ‘Ah, I get it,”. moment for themselves.”

Thanks to the Smithsonian Affiliates who will help students find those “Ah hah” moments… right in their own neighborhoods.

Affiliate partners for Vanished:
Mid-America Science Museum, Hot Springs, AR
Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science, Tallahassee, FL
Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, WY
Kansas Cosmosphere, Hutchinson, KS
The Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA
Schiele Museum of Natural History, Gastonia, NC
Aerospace Museum of California, McClellan, CA
Putnam Museum, Davenport, IA
Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, PA
South Florida Museum, Bradenton, FL
Virginia Museum of Natural History, Martinsville, VA
Kenosha Public Museum, Kenosha, WI
Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, MT
Museum of Dentistry, Baltimore, MD
South Carolina State Museum, Columbia, SC

“Vanished” in the news:
USA Today: Interactive game ‘Vanished’ doubles as an educational tool

ArtDaily.org: Smithsonian and MIT Partner to Turn Kids into Scientific Investigators

affiliates, want to play with MIT?

Kids playing at the Natural History Museum's Fossil Lab

@ the Smithsonian's Fossil Lab

The educational game designers at MIT’s Education Arcade have been working with Smithsonian scientists and educators to create an online curated game for middle school students to be played over six weeks in the spring of 2011.


In the game, players will receive encoded messages from scientists in the far future.  These scientists are writing because much of the scientific record has been destroyed.  Through scientific reasoning, research and exploratory challenges at museums, online collaboration with other players, and online experiment simulations, players unravel a multilayered mystery about the possible future of our earth – a science fiction scenario that incorporates very real environmental issues and natural science.

Players will explore, hypothesize, and test in the areas of cryptography, mathematics, anthropology, astronomy, climatology, zoology, environmental science, paleontology, archeology, and forensics.


How can Affiliates play?  During several weeks, players will be encouraged to collect “clues” – many of which can come from the Affiliate network.  Affiliates are encouraged to participate at any number of levels – from minimal to fully engaged.  Here are some examples of Affiliate involvement:


  • Encourage your Museum’s after-school club to play the game or distribute information sheets to your teacher constituents to encourage their students to play.
  • Distribute a “clue” at your front desk to visitors who provide a particular password.
  • Discuss any relevant exhibits or collections you have with the game designers, so that they may possibly be included in the game itself.
  • Maintain a “drop box,” placing items (hidden clues!) in a Tupperware box on your property for gamers to find.
  • Host a dedicated treasure-hunt style challenge in conjunction with the game.

The game hopes to drive student players and their families to their local Affiliate museums, to discover the resources in their own backyards that unlock the mystery of the future.  


Interested in more information or how to sign up?  Contact Jennifer Brundage, National Outreach Manager at 202.633.5306 or brundagej@si.edu.  Game designers will also be discussing this opportunity at the Affiliations Annual Conference – hope to see you there!