Interactive Flash maps: using web games to teach concepts

Any educator will tell you that the best way to communicate a concept is not just by stating it, but by opening the door for the learner to discover the concept by way of their own experience or reasoning. Science experiments that go on in classrooms across the country are a testament to the importance of knowledge earned through experience, known, in the case of science, as experiments. Learning on the web, often called eLearning, is no different.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a D.C. based think-tank dedicated to advancing educational excellence in U.S. schools, understands this concept as well as anyone. So when they approached us to help them build an interactive study resource and web based game to illustrate some concepts for their “Accountability Illusion” report, we were excited to get started.

Interactive Flash Maps for Fordham Institute

The project involved the creation of two “applets” centered on a map of the United States. Both applets are powered by  Adobe Flash, the dominant platform for games and highly interactive content on the web. Although the platform is often overused, as in the case of simple rotating slideshows, or misused, as in the case of entirely Flash powered websites, no modern web team’s toolkit is complete without Flash – particulary in the eLearning space.

The first applet is a game that illustrates inconsistencies in standards and expectations from state to state. The learner drags a “failing” school house onto any state. The game uses real standards data, maintained in a simple XML file by the Fordham Institute, to determine whether the school’s scores would be acceptable in the destination state. The learner might be surprised to learn that the school’s “success” or “failure” varies from state to state.

The second, more analytic applet, allows the learner to study and compare state targets and scores using the same U.S. map as a visualization. When the learner hovers the mouse pointer over a state with data, a “tooltip” box with detailed statistics follows the cursor. The learner can “pin” the tooltip box to the screen, allowing him or her to compare multiple states’ data side by side using simple and conventional drag and drop. Once again, the data is maintained by the Fordham Institute in an XML file that is read by the Flash applet. In fact, it shares the XML file with the game, so that staff doesn’t have to maintain two different data sources.

The institute has highlighted the report and applets atop their home page; be sure to stop by their report page and check it out!