A small Minneapolis start-up that makes educational games has been awarded a federal grant to develop apps to help students learn difficult science and math concepts.

Andamio Games and two science educators at the University of Minnesota will use the $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to design a series of tablet-based lessons for high school and college biology.

Improving science, technology, engineering and math education has been a stated priority of the Obama administration. The U.S. could face a shortage of 3 million high-skilled workers by 2018 as fewer American students master difficult math and science concepts, and the nation ranks below many developed countries in math and science education.

Helping students get a firm grasp of difficult, foundational concepts is Andamio’s mission.

“The pain is around these complicated, usually invisible processes,” said Adam Gordon, director of educational outreach for the firm. “It’s hard, kids lose motivation. And quite frankly, because it’s hard, it’s hard to teach.”

Groups of students will be able to use the new game to work together to model complex biological processes. Initially the project will focus on cell respiration and photosynthesis.

Andamio Games’ key innovation, which is what attracted the small business innovation research grant, is the capability for multiple students to work on a project simultaneously using a mobile device. That allows teachers the ability to give appropriately individualized instruction without separating students into groups by their ability.

“Teachers tell us that our approach to multiplayer, cooperative challenges engages students and sets the stage for peer learning like no other app they have tried,” Gordon said.

The company’s app iNeuron, a collaborative game designed to help teachers improve neuroscience education in high-school classrooms, has been downloaded 50,000 times. It is used mostly by high school psychology teachers. Version 2, which is currently undergoing classroom evaluation, will be available early next year.

Research on the new biology lessons will be conducted in partnership with Sehoya Cotner, a University of Minnesota professor of biology, and Barbara Billington, professor of STEM Education at the College of Education and Human Development.

Andamio Games, which employs three full-time people and makes use of a network of researchers and independent developers, started with the development of iNeuron four years ago under Adventium Labs, a Minneapolis cybersecurity firm. It was spun off as an independent company a year ago.