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
- iCivics—experience what it means to be part of a democracy
- Lemonade Stand—run a lemonade stand business
- Making History: The Great War—WWI strategy game
- 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
- Science simulations—lots of choices at 7th grade level
- Second Life—simulates just about anything if you can find it
- 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 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 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
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.