The use of computer games in education is not a new concept. A popular game back in 1992 was Oregon Trail, as shown as it was used on the Apple II computer:
And the Oregon Trail game is still around, even available for the iPhone, 2011:
After our presentation by Sylvia Martinez about the benefits of gaming in education and the attributes of a good, relevant learning game, our assignment was to check out the website Wonderville, try some of the games and critique them for their use in an educational setting.
Wonderville is a website developed by the Science Alberta Foundation and includes more than 30 games that teach and reinforce a variety of science concepts. In addition to the online games, there is also a section for activities such as handouts and puzzles that can be used to supplement the topics.
Now, just to be clear: My name is Trina Crawford and I am a terrible gamer.
I went onto the site to try some of the games but as soon as my kids (The Boss, 11.5 and The Pink Dictator, 7) figured out that I was on the site, they were over my shoulder, giving me advice and asking, “When do WEEEEEEEEEEE get to play??!!” So I decided to let the kids help me with my homework. We started out doing the activities together and talking about what we were doing and why we were making the decisions that we were, but then I decided to just let them go at it and I observed their play and asked questions as they went along. What follows are the games that we tried on the Wonderville site, observations about the kids playing and my thoughts about the games:
Top Cow: We started playing this game together. The object is to create either ice cream, yogurt, or cheese by moving along a conveyor belt, starting with milk and making the necessary additions to create the item you have chosen. You have the option to add things such as live bacteria, heat or cold, flavour and stirring or pressing. Or you can choose to skip one of those entirely if you think it will help make the product. You are given hints as you go along, but there is still enough room that you could make mistakes and if you do, your product comes out as a pile of ‘goo’ instead. Using common sense, information given and trial and error, you are given several attempts to ‘fix’ your process in order to come out with the item you have chosen. This game was a hit with the kids and they learned about the addition of live bacteria to certain items and how to activate those to have a successful process.
Fission Impossible: A game based in a reactor where you are a neutron searching for Uranium 235 to create nuclear fission. You must avoid Uranium 238 and stay within a certain area or the game will be over. My son played this game and enjoyed maneuvering the neutron around, but after the game was played a few times and a few levels conquered, I asked him what he was doing or what he had learned but he couldn’t tell me. He just said it was fun. It is a good game for hand-eye coordination, but seemed to be lacking in the information/concept area.
Airborne Experiment: My daughter played this game. It involved mixing bird bodies and wings and throwing them like a paper airplane to try to determine which ones would glide the best. It was quite obvious to my daughter which sizes went with which one, but after a successful throw, there was interesting information given about the bird that was created and how, specifically, that bird flew. The information was given before moving onto the next combination. It was a pretty quick game that resulted in a giggle-fest when the kids started with “What happens if we put the Finch wings on the Pelican body?” and watching the birds crash.
Water Treatment: Something is wrong with the town’s water supply and the kids have to work together to make sure the water treatment plant is working correctly. Kids learn the process and complete each step with guidance to get the amounts of additive perfect (ie: chlorine and alum) and to ensure that the physical plant is built properly (ie: correct number of baffles). This was a simplified model of a water treatment plant but provided much learning along the way. We all worked together on this one and the kids enjoyed getting the water plant working and getting the message that they had saved Wonderville’s water supply!
Robot Factory: You are charged with building a robot to complete a certain chore of your choosing (ie: vacuum the floor) and must include the correct arms and mobility items (ie: wheels, tracks) to make it work. My daughter did this task but sadly it froze up and crashed and we never did find out how successful our robot was!
Save the World: This game taught energy generation and conservation and had the children make choices to learn the best source for energy generation for various places around the globe. There was a considerable amount of collaboration with the kids for this one because it seemed to be very much a trial and error game and I heard more than once, “I don’t know why it’s doing that. . . maybe we should try this. . . ” There were good descriptors of the sources of energy but the kids didn’t ever really figure out how to be successful in the game. Good information, potential for collaboration, but it lost their attention and the ‘fun’ factor.
So, after playing several of the games with the kids I have to say that Wonderville is an educational game site that delivers! The kids were enthusiastic, the games were fun for them and they are already asking when they can play again. They were exposed to several new science concepts and information and learned from the games that they played. I would definitely recommend this site for classroom use!