May 3, 2013

15 Great Simulations to Gamify Your Class

kids keyboard awe copyI’ve been spending every spare moment editing the upcoming 7th Grade Technology Curriculum Textbook (click to be notified when it’s available–projected: June 2013). One unit I’ve fallen in love with is ‘Gamification of Education’. I haven’t spent a lot of time on that topic and am now over-the-top about its possibilities.

If you’re into gamifying your classes, you understand.

Here are 15 websites I’ve found that do an excellent job of using games to promote critical thinking, problem solving skills, and learning:

  • Bridge Builder—learn how to design and test bridges
  • Coffee Shop—run a coffee shop business
  • Electrocity—how does electricity contribute to the growth of communities
  • iCivics—experience what it means to be part of a democracy
  • Lemonade Stand—run a lemonade stand business
  • Life (Insurance)—manage your life and see why insurance is important
  • Making History: The Great War—WWI strategy game
  • MidWorld Online—learn French or Spanish while completing conquests
  • Minecraft (links to MinecraftEdu—fee required)
  • Mission USstudents role play the American Revolution or the Civil War
  • Past/Present—life as an American immigrant in the early 1900’s
  • Science simulations—lots of choices at 7th grade level
  • Second Life—simulates just about anything if you can find it
  • SimCity—learn how to run a city
  • SimTower—learn how to run a skyscraper as a business

Suggestions for using Bridge Builder:

  • Students can build highly detailed bridges, landscapes and environments.
  • There are forty levels, so students won’t ‘finish’. They’ll blog about ‘learning’.
  • Critical thinking is encouraged because the game is not just about building, but designing and testing.
  • Expect to use basic physics and engineering

Suggestions on using Coffee Shop and Lemonade Stand:

  • Preview both. Pick one.
  • Create marketing materials—business cards, fliers, websites (leave these decisions to students)–using tech skills already learned. Students can use installed programs like Word or Publisher, or online widgets like Big Huge Labs. They decide what is needed to promote their business.
  • Play simulation.
  • Track business using Excel.
  • Evaluate data using Excel charts and graphs.

Suggestions for using Electrocity:

  • This game provides much insight into critical thinking and problem solving in the use/abuse of electricity, in the balance of good and evil experienced in serving the needs of people and the environment.
  • Not difficult to learn, but requires preparation. It’s fast-moving so will keep the attention of non-gamers.

Suggestions for using iCivics:

  • Founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to educate through games on topics of civics, democracy, government. For example, in We the Jury, students must decide a tough case while learning what jurors discuss in the deliberation room. They choose from different civil cases, analyze evidence, weigh testimony, and use the right arguments to reach a fair and impartial verdict.
  • Have students do a pre-blog about their knowledge on whichever civics topic they pick. When finished with the simulations, blog about what they learned that is different.

Suggestions for using Life (Insurance):

  • Life insurance isn’t a topic most students are knowledgable about so blog reflections on this simulation should be especially interesting
  • If students get done quickly, select another related simulation

Suggestions for using Making History:

  • places student in the role of national leader with the power to choose their own path and alter the course of history.
  • Students learn not just history, but International trade, religious and cultural strife, military campaigns, diplomatic negotiations

Suggestions for using MidWorld Online:

  • Perfect for students who struggle with a foreign language
  • As they play the game, have them translate their blogs to the French or Spanish they are learning

Suggestions for using Mission US:

  • There are two games—Crown or Colony about the American Revolution and Flight to Freedom about the Civil War. Each takes 1-2 classes. Both are easy to use and understand
  • There are many reflection tools provided to encourage deeper thinking by students. Have students include these answers in their blog posts

Suggestions for using Past/Present:

  • designed to impart decision-making and critical thinking skills in the study of American history.
  • interactive 3-D “virtual world” in which student “becomes” a fictional character caught up in the big issues of the early 1900s
  • designed to appeal to gamers as well as novices

Suggestions for using Science simulations:

  • lots of choices at 7th grade level. These aren’t as long as other simulations, but can be tightly focused on a topic. Have them use that facility as they share their goals and expectations
  • You can reasonably expect students to complete several of these in the time allotted for this unit. Have students select those that are connected thematically.
  • This is a good choice for non-gamers. They will have more time to reach a comfort level with the concept of ‘gamification’.

Suggestions on using Second Life:

  • a scavenger hunt of times that fulfill educational tasks students assign to themselves
  • an exploration of Greek/Roman architecture
  • explore five places being studied in their classes (art museums, Sistene Chapel, inside of a computer)
  • using a ‘sandbox’ to create a 3D object, test it and share it
  • walk in someone else’s shoes, maybe someone with a debilitating illness like schizophrenia

Suggestions for using SimTower:

  • Find a free download site (this page links to Abandonia)
  • Students can play this game endlessly. As they play, note what events and factors facilitate business growth and/or failure

Suggestions for using SimCity:

  • Find a free download site or buy the update—newly-aligned with ed standards
  • Students can play this game endlessly. As they play, note what events and factors facilitate business growth and/or failure
  • Encourages collaboration, time management and systems thinking

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for, featured blogger for Technology in Education, IMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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