Welcome to Mars: Fictional placemaking for the meaningful learning of biology
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The aim of this design-based research was to explore the use of fictional places as meaningful contexts for learning. The design was based on design principles distilled from four theories and practices: (1) place-based education; (2) communities of practice; (3) imaginative teaching; and (4) story-based learning. These design principles are the foundation of fictional placemaking, which allows for the establishment of an emotional connection to contexts created and used to teach concepts and skills. A lesson series was created to evaluate the contribution of the design principles to the meaningful learning of system thinking. Student groups had to design societies living in domes on Mars. The lesson series was taught in one ninth-grade class (Dutch 3 VWO, 28 students). Data was collected through student projects, concept maps, a placemaking exercise and a questionnaire in a period of one month. The analysis of the data showed that five out of six groups reached the highest level of the system thinking hierarchy model after completing the lesson series. It also showed the establishment of an emotional connection to the fictional place, an engagement with the story told and the use of imagination. These findings illustrate the potential of fictional placemaking to create contexts that promote the meaningful learning of biology.