Learning About Hearing – The Fun Way

Learning About Hearing – The Fun Way

How do you entice young people to study science? Make it a computer game. While admittedly not an original idea, Creare is working on building such a game in one of our clear areas of expertise: audiology. We teamed with Strangeheart Games and Dangerous Decibels to create a game called Song of the Starbird to teach hearing and acoustics to 5th graders to help promote hearing health and reduce noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

In the game, the player becomes an alien explorer from planet Whisperwell, sent to planet Bumble Thump to find the legendary Starbird. To explore and collect hidden items, the player travels around the world listening while avoiding overexposure to loud sounds that can damage their ears. Knowledge about the physics of sound and the dangers of NIHL helps the player achieve victory. Additionally, the game provides students context for mathematical concepts like waves and logarithms, helping provide an answer to the age-old question: “Where am I ever going to use this stuff?”

Girl playing computer game

Engaging gameplay is exciting.

Developing Song of the Starbird requires a multidisciplinary team that integrates Creare’s technical expertise in software development, acoustics, and mathematical modeling with the psychology of learning and the art of entertainment. We carefully balance quantity of educational content with engaging and fun gameplay. The core mechanics of the game closely model real physics and can be used as a digital sound laboratory. Sounds in the game visually interfere constructively/destructively, the amplitudes of sounds follow the inverse square law, and the health system is based on real exposure limits. The game’s efficacy is tested with human studies and suggests that students can be educated while being engaged and entertained at the same time. Song of the Starbird will enable teachers to use classroom time more efficiently, while engaging, entertaining, and educating a new generation of engineers, scientists, and mathematicians—or at least getting them to turn their earbuds down.

After receiving a B.S. from the University of Waterloo in Canada, Matt Ueckermann earned his M.S. and Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Mechanical and Computational Engineering. Since joining Creare, his work has included real-time image processing, geospatial data processing and assimilation, novel refrigeration devices, and modeling turbulent flows in jet engines.

This story was featured in the Fall 2017 edition of Creare’s People & Technology newsletter.