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Activity Monitor Gaming and the Next Generation Science Standards: Students Engaging with Data, Measurement Limitations, and Personal Relevance


This paper connects the technological practice of activity monitor gaming to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) science and engineering practice of “analyzing and interpreting data,” and to the foundational constructionist idea of personal meaning. In our larger study, eighth-grade students, ages 12–14, wore physical activity monitor devices for approximately four months, encountered their own and peers’ data on device displays and dashboards, and played a game designed by the project team that converted their device data into game bonuses and player actions. The analysis for this article examined focus groups and individual interviews with students from the project to determine alignment between students’ thinking and the NGSS “analyzing and interpreting data” practices for grades 6–8: considering limitations related to measurement accuracy and error, measurement tools, and appropriateness of the data collection model. The analysis also identified what types of student experiences and reflections could be characterized as constructionist components of knowledge generation and knowledge reformulation, both of which are key to NGSS recommendations around finding “relevance” in data. Findings revealed that while students engaged in all three types of consideration, as well as creating meaningful interpretations of pattern identification and reasoning from evidence, their reflections and insights did not, for the most part, lead to actionable understandings. Our results have implications for implementing activity monitor technologies and practices in science education, particularly in regard to student meaning and motivation.

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  1. 1.

    Science and Engineering Practices are thematically stranded throughout NGSS documents, but they are all consolidated and described in detail in Appendix F, which is where most of the citations and page number quotes in this article come from.

  2. 2.

    The device used in this study was the Fitbit Zip, which is no longer widely available. More expensive, wrist-mounted devices with integrated heart-rate monitors are now much more common.

  3. 3.

    Conversations with students often referenced the commercial name of the device (“Fitbit”), but transcripts have been reprinted here with more generic terms (“device,” “activity monitor,” etc.)

  4. 4.

    The research team excluded these “unlikely” step totals (more than 30 k in one day) from device data analysis in the larger project.

  5. 5.

    All student names have been changed.

  6. 6.

    Physical Education (“PE”), also internationally sometimes called “Gym” or “Sport.”


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Our game design partner on Terra is Funomena Inc., led by Robin Hunicke and Martin Middleton, with principal programming by Ted Aronson and art by Glenn Hernandez. Thanks are due also to the participating school, teacher, and students for their cooperation and their insights.


This study was funded by two grants from the National Science Foundation Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate, Cyberlearning Program, IIS 1451446 and IIS 1217317.

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Correspondence to Cynthia Carter Ching.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study, and from their parents, since students were minors at the time of data collection.

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Ching, C.C., Hagood, D. Activity Monitor Gaming and the Next Generation Science Standards: Students Engaging with Data, Measurement Limitations, and Personal Relevance. J Sci Educ Technol 28, 589–601 (2019).

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  • Next Generation Science Standards
  • Data interpretation
  • Physical sensors
  • Student data collection
  • Games