The most popular website at my school is Minecraft–hands down, starting in 1st grade (I’m amazed parents let six-year-olds use this sometimes violent game, but they do and students do and the mania starts). Because kids would live in this blocky virtual world 24/7, I only let them play it two lunch periods a week. Those days, my lab is always packed. Kids have no idea they’re learning math (estimation, geometry, shapes), science (geology, rocks, minerals), building, or softer skills like thinking and reasoning, problem solving, hypothesis-testing, risk-taking, and collaboration. They don’t realize they’re exercising that delicate skill called ‘creativity’ or care that Common Sense Media raves that “Minecraft empowers players to exercise their imagination and take pride in their digital creations as they learn basic building concepts.”
As I watched students play (and play and play and play), I started to understand what it was that enraptured them so thoroughly: It’s the thinking. They make decisions that result in consequences and ultimately require more thinking. Players can’t go on auto-pilot. They must engage their brain.
OK, I get it. No way will I reinvent the education wheel when I’ve stumbled onto the golden goose: Simulations–not those shallow ones that walk players through the ‘right’ answers, but the deep, multi-layered type that are hard to find in the virtual world. I’ve had one (called SimTower) on my lab computers for ten years. Third graders discover it and play it as often as I let them–which used to be every lunch hour until Minecraft replaced it–right through until fifth grade when the shine wore thin and they needed something new. It’s listed below, but you can’t buy it. It’s only available as ‘abandoned software’ from the link.
Here are a few more you can tantalize your children with whenever you need a break as Summertime Planner in Chief:
- iCivics—experience what it means to be part of a democracy
- Minecraft (links to MinecraftEdu—fee required)
- Mission US––students role play the American Revolution or the Civil War
- Past/Present—life as an American immigrant in the early 1900’s
- SimTower—learn how to run a high-rise
For shorter sessions, try these:
- Coffee Shop—run a coffee shop business
- Science simulations—lots of choices for 2nd-8th graders
Best news: These are all free.
Feel free to email this list–or the entire post–to all of your students. Then, they won’t misplace it!
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.