Hexacago Health Academy

©2016 Courtesy of Ci3 at the University of Chicago.
  • Project Description

    What is Hexacago Health Academy?
    Hexacago Health Academy (HHA) is a game-based science and health program hosted by the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab at Ci3. HHA engages high school students in learning about and addressing major health issues through game play, interaction with STEM and health professionals, and mentoring.

    The Hexacago Board
    In 2013, Ci3’s Game Changer Chicago Design Lab created a game board that could be used to design a variety of games related to health and STEM issues. The board, “Hexacago,” symbolizes the city of Chicago and the different city regions overlaid with a grid of hexagons. Each game played on the board brings a systems-level perspective to health and wellness and helps players understand how personal, social, community, and policy factors affect their health and overall wellbeing.

    Hexacago Game Design Program
    A three-week summer program for youth will provide in-depth exposure to public health and science careers while fostering game development using the Hexacago board. Year one (Summer 2015) was devoted to sexual and reproductive health games, while year two (Summer 2016) will focus on developing games about alcohol and drugs. The Hexacago Health Academy will ensure the summer programs meet educational goals.

    About Ci3 and GCC
    Founded in 2012 by Melissa Gilliam, MD, MPH, The Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health (Ci3) is a research center at the University of Chicago that addresses the social and structural determinants of adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Ci3 houses three labs: The Game Changer Chicago Design Lab; The Transmedia Story Lab; and The Design Thinking Lab. The Game Changer Chicago Design Lab (GCC) is co-led by Patrick Jagoda, PhD (English and New Media Studies) and Dr. Gilliam. This lab designs serious games, interactive learning experiences and digital media arts projects with youth and for youth. Youth participate in game play and design to gain new literacies, health knowledge, scientific awareness, technological skills, and positive interactions with adults that can lead to empowerment and long-term well-being. Ci3 envisions a world in which all youth emerge into adulthood with agency over their bodies and futures and is committed to empowering young people, conducting innovative research, and uncovering opportunities for policy and systemic change.

    Health and Science Professionals
    A critical part of HHA will be youth interacting with STEM science and health professionals. Our main objectives for these workshops will be to increase youth’s interest in science and health careers, as well as provide opportunities for students to learn about particular science or health topics. We believe helping youth build positive futures is at the center of improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Partnering with science and health professionals is a way we can provide rich information on health topics, as well as offer opportunities for students to ask questions about careers and make steps toward college readiness.

    Our STEM, health, and science workshops expose students to traditional and non-traditional careers. Faculty and professionals from the University of Chicago and our community are incorporated into our program including: doctors, nurses, lawyers, epidemiologist, anthropologists, and basic scientists. Workshops help students learn about disciplines a wide-range of disciplines from sociology to health policy. Students will take what they learn in each workshop to design games.

    Youth Initiated Mentoring (YIM)
    To address the need for a lack of mentors for many youth, we are incorporating natural mentoring relationships through an approach called as Youth Initiated Mentoring (YIM). Through YIM, youth are trained to seek and build relationships with non-parental adults from their community (e.g., teachers, extended family). In one study, YIM has been shown to create mentoring relationships that last longer than formal mentoring relationships among youth who have dropped out of school. YIM has been developed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

    Teacher Professional Development
    Professional development sessions will be held for teachers in Chicago on game-based learning and the Hexacago Game Design Program. These sessions will serve as a learning opportunity for both high school teachers and the team of HHA. As we teach the benefits of using games to teach in the classroom, we will be learning about building a game curriculum to best fit the need of the educator.

    Gameplay can be a powerful education tool, allowing students to solve problems and think critically about particular or challenging topics. The Game Changer Chicago Design Lab serves as a safe place for youth to explore and try on new roles, change attitudes, question social norms, and rethink their capabilities, all while playing and designing different games.

  • Abstract

    There is a need for diverse young people to enter the STEM workforce. Achieving this goal will require increasing educational attainment for young people from underserved communities. Yet, the barriers to educational attainment are not isolated. The term “syndemic dynamics” describes problems and conditions that are overlapping, interacting, and reinforcing; the term helps to explain how poor health and poor educational attainment interact. Poverty, limited opportunities for high quality education, and disproportionate rates of youth public health issues (which we define as HIV/AIDS, adolescent pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and substance use) have a syndemic relationship and intergenerational effects for urban African American and Latino youth. Thus, there is a need for multi- modal programs that address both education and health.

    The proposed Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) will use gameplay and game design as the foundation for an informal science education and health program. The three project partners include The University of Chicago’s Game Changer Chicago Design Lab (GCC Lab), the Institute for Translational Medicine, and the Center for College Access and Success’s (CCAS) GEAR UP program. The GCC Lab is an interdisciplinary game and research lab comprised of faculty, staff, students, and high school youth that design games aimed at improving academic achievement and optimizing the health and well-being of young people. GEAR UP aims to increase academic performance and preparation for post-secondary education among youth in partnering Chicago Public Schools.

    “Hexacago,” a game board designed by the GCC Lab that represents Chicago with a hexagon-grid overlay, will be the centerpiece of our program. Youth and the GCC Lab will design Hexacago games addressing youth public health issues. Designing and playing Hexacago games will promote health knowledge, systems thinking, problem solving, and personal agency. To design games, students will use human-centered design, an approach that aligns with practices endorsed by the Next Generation Science Standards, e.g., asking questions, designing solutions.

  • Dissemination Strategies

    In addition to our website and social media presence, we will use university publications, academic conferences, and peer reviewed academic journals to share project findings.

  • Project Evaluation(s)

    HHA will employ various methods to evaluate the program’s impact. A pre survey will assess health topics taught in school, health knowledge, future college and career aspirations, social support, and critical thinking skills. These same measures will be assessed again at future time points, either at the conclusion of the program, or 6 or 12 months post program completion. Next, two forms of qualitative research methods will give insight on how participating youth view the program and its impact through digital journaling and in-depth, structured interviews. Using a variety of evaluation methods will paint a full picture on how games, STEM exposure, and health and science learning can empower youth around science, Engineering, technology, and math.

  • Resources for Sharing

    Our goal is to design playable Hexacago games and curriculum for conducting Hexacago game design workshops.

    PBS News Hour: Student Reporting Labs recently released the video, Game lab engages teens in sex education on its Website. The video is of an interview with Ashlyn Sparrow, who explains about the importance of sexual education.

    CI3 is a game lab that creates video games as well as traditional card and board games that teach teenagers about sexual and reproductive health.


Project Photos


  • ©2016 Courtesy of Ci3 at the University of Chicago.

  • ©2016 Courtesy of Ci3 at the University of Chicago.

  • ©2016 Courtesy of Ci3 at the University of Chicago.

  • ©2016 Courtesy of Ci3 at the University of Chicago.

  • ©2016 Courtesy of Ci3 at the University of Chicago.

  • ©2016 Courtesy of Ci3 at the University of Chicago.

  • ©2016 Courtesy of Ci3 at the University of Chicago.

Project Audience

High school students and teachers

Subjects Addressed

Public health, reproductive health, games for learning, STEM