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Federal Grant Competition Favors Educational Gaming Projects

The United States Department of Education (ED) has overwhelmingly favored educational gaming in its annual Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract awards. This year, 12 of the 20 awards went to educational game and game-related projects.

According to an ED blog post, the fact that so many of this year's SBIR award recipients are in the field of educational gaming reflects the increasing use of games to motivate and engage students in the classroom and the growth in popularity of mobile devices, which provide an expanded market for educational games. The ED also references "a growing base of evidence indicating that games can be an important and effective component of our strategy to prepare a highly skilled 21st century American workforce."

Many of this year's SBIR games winners feature adaptive technology that automatically adjusts difficulty based on the player's ability, story-based narratives, rewards and competition, an instructional component, and a teacher dashboard that provides teachers with formative assessment results.

The SBIR contract awards provide up to $1.05 million of funding to small businesses that are conducting research and development on commercially viable educational or assistive technology, science, or engineering projects. The SBIR program is managed by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research division of the ED.

SBIR awards funds in two phases:

  • Phase I awards up to $150,000 over six months for prototyping and research to demonstrate project functionality and feasibility;
  • Phase II awards up to $900,000 over two years for full-scale development of the product, iterative research to refine it, and a pilot study to demonstrate its usability;

A small number of Fast Track awards cover work in both Phase I and Phase II.

Previous IES SBIR award winners include Filament Games, which won the National STEM Video Game Challenge in 2011; Sokikom, which won several industry awards and $1 million in angel funding; and Triad Interactive Media, which won a 2013 SIAA CODiE award.

The winning 2013 IES SBIR awards for games this year are:

Phase I:

Phase II:

  • Hall of Heroes: An Interactive Social Tutoring System to Improve and Measure Social Goals for Students in Preparation for Transition to Middle School from 3C Institute for Social Development;
  • Go Games: Meeting Common Core Standards with Tablet-Enhanced Multiplayer Role Play Games from Filament Games;
  • Empires: The First Socially-Networked Story-Based Math Game from Imagine Education;
  • Teachley: MathFacts — Design and Development of Intervention Software for Promoting Single-Digit Operational Fluency from Teachley; and
  • Numbershire II: Development of a Second Grade Game-Based Integrated Learning System to Target Whole Numbers and Operations in Base Ten and Operations in Algebraic Thinking from Thought Cycle.

Fast Track (Phase I & II):

  • Dynamic E-Learning to Improve Postsecondary Transition Outcomes for Secondary Students with High Functioning Autism from 3C Institute for Social Development;
  • Mission US: An Interactive Solution for Middle School History Learning from Electric Funstuff; and
  • SciSkillQuest: A Standards-Based Game to Develop Students' Scientific Skills, Academic Mindsets, and Learning Strategies in Science from Mindset Works.

Further information about the 2013 SBIR award winners can be found on the IES site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at [email protected].