Four Minneapolis-area students with an aptitude for math and science are using their skills to help kids learn how to stay safe around school buses while also having fun.
The girls are known as Team RUBIES, a Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science team of seventh and eighth graders from Lake Harriet Community School. Together, they designed Bus Whiz, a computer game that teaches kids about school bus safety, targeting kindergartners to fourth graders.
The team was inspired to work on the project after reading a news story about a girl who was killed after dropping her homework under the school bus and trying to retrieve it without letting the bus driver know, explained Team RUBIES member Isabella.
“She got run over because she didn’t know that going under a school bus is wrong. And, there are a lot more stories like this, even of adults going under the bus to get dropped cell phones. Even adults … after all 13 years of school still don’t know how to act around a bus. Something needed to be done.”
As the team worked on the game, they spoke with younger students in their school, asking them basic safety questions, such as, “What would you do if your bus got into an accident?” and found that none of the students could answer correctly.
“It was eye-opening,” Isabella said. “The teachers teach us this at the beginning of the year, but the [students] don’t remember it. We need to do something to make it stick so they remember and don’t get hurt.”
“Also, we found people didn’t remember what they were being taught because teachers would go over it for 30 seconds, so the kids didn’t really retain the necessary information,” Rachel, a seventh-grade team member, added.
“They don’t teach us that much about bus safety at any time and we all forget,” said Izzie, Team RUBIES member. “Even though we’re eighth graders, we feel without this project we wouldn’t have known what to do on a school bus if there was an accident.”
The team chose to create a computer game because research shows kids learn better when they’re learning voluntarily, are motivated to learn and are having fun, such as while playing a game, Team RUBIES member and eighth-grader Ava explained.
The team used the textadventures.co.uk website to program the game because it let them incorporate images and audio and have the game linked to on other websites. They created four different characters for players to choose from, all students who ride the bus to school and are presented with a few real-life situations and two options for how to react to each one. If the player selects the incorrect answer, they get an explanation of why it’s wrong and a chance to fix their answer.
Reaching out to Lt. Brian Reu, director of pupil transportation at the Minnesota Highway Patrol, the team received valuable suggestions on improving the game, including adding a “play again” button at the end and adding statistics and infographics about bus safety on their website. The team also solicited feedback from video game designers, bus drivers and bus companies, educators, and their younger siblings, who suggested providing a certificate of achievement at the end of the game.
“That would also help kids learn because if they get a reward, then they feel like they’re doing something really good that will benefit them and others,” Isabella said.
Team RUBIES competed with their game in a FIRST Lego League Robotics competition and advanced to the Minnesota State Tournament on Feb. 7, placing in the top seven in the research project portion of the competition.
When asked about next steps for the game, the team members said they hope to build more bus safety awareness with the game by making it accessible to more people and will continue to solicit feedback. Meanwhile, Team RUBIES has utilized search engine optimization in an effort to make the game more widely available.
Team RUBIES also presented Bus Whiz at a safety meeting held by the Minnesota Department of Education last week.