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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

A Side of Sims: Suggestions for the Classroom

A partial sampling of simulations for elementary, middle, and high school.
By Marc Prensky

Useful, usable simulations exist for practically any subject at any level. Most are free (or inexpensive). Because of the ubiquity of computer and video games, the grade level at which they can be successfully introduced is falling dramatically. For example, simulations formerly used in graduate school, such as Stranded on the Moon, can now be used in many elementary schools.

The following categorization is therefore approximate, and dependent on the capabilities of the individual students and the teacher; note, too, that even the extensive online listing that supplements this sampling is only a partial one, and that new simulations appear all the time. (Simulations are free unless descriptions are accompanied by a dollar sign.)

Credit: David Julian

Elementary School

Froguts
This site offers online simulations of animal dissections. ($)

Stranded on the Moon
A classic noncomputer simulation in which you choose, and justify your selection of, a certain number of survival items on a list.

Zoo Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon 2
Care for land, aquatic, and prehistoric animals. ($)

Credit: Sim City

Middle School

Sim City
The iconic game about careers and social skills is now free to teachers.

Estate of Hans Jensen v. the White Star Line
Materials to create this investigation of the sinking of the RMS Titanic are available online, or make up your own version or a mock trial related to another historical event, or a fictional one.

GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science)
Includes science simulations such as Environmental Detectives (distinct from the high school simulation with the same title, listed online), Acid Rain, Global Warming and the Greenhouse Effect, and River Cutters.

Credit: Civilization

High School

Civilization (III or IV)
Work your way up from the Stone Age with this popular game. ($)

Model United Nations
Visit the Model UN Web site for more information about this venerable live simulation.

Re-Mission
An in-body simulation that shows how cancer works and how to fight it.

Extra Credit

More Stimulating Simulations

Useful, usable simulations exist for practically any subject at any level, most available free (or for very little money). Because today's students have become so sophisticated at simulation through their games, the grade level at which simulations can be successfully introduced is falling dramatically. Simulations formerly used in graduate school, such as Stranded on the Moon, can now be used in many elementary schools.

The following categorization is therefore approximate, and heavily dependent on the capabilities of the individual students and the teacher; note, too, that his is only a partial listing, and that new simulations appear all the time.

Elementary School

Choose Your Own Adventure
An extensive series of popular alternative-scenario books.

Epistemic Games
Simulations created by the University of Wisconsin at Madison's Epistemic Games research group.

The Incredible Machine
A series of creativity simulations in which kids make Rube Goldberg-like contraptions to reach certain goals.

National Geographic Kids
The National Geographic Society's Web site for children features a handful of interactive games.

Nintendogs
The best known of several pet-care simulations. ($)

The Oregon Trail
The original in-school simulation, created by a substitute teacher and his programmer roommate. (Lesson plans for using The Oregon Trail are available here.)

PBS Kids
An assortment of game available on the PBS Kids Web site.

Zoo Vet and Pet Pals Animal Doctor
Imagine you are a veterinarian. ($)

Middle School

Building Homes of Our Own
Design, build, and sell your own house.

HAGames

Hot Shot Business
An entrepreneurial simulation from Disney and the Kauffman Foundation

Nobel Foundation Educational Games
The organization that awards the Nobel Prizes offers a selection of games in a variety of subject areas.

Real Lives 2004
Users are born into a simulated family from around the globe; statistical data plays out their and their family's life. ($)

River City
Find out what's causing a disease with this game from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

School Tycoon Design your own school; many other "tycoon" games are available from Trygames and other developers. ($)

Social Impact Games
Run an election campaign: Games include Power Politics3, Frontrunner, The Political Machine, and President Forever. Or simulate creating state budgets with Mass Balance. (A federal-budget simulation is in the works.)

High School

A Force More Powerful
Direct a nonviolent rebellion.

Arizona SMS Stock Market Simulations
Also available from many other states; appropriate for middle school, too.

DNA Microarray Wet Lab Simulation Do genomics.

Environmental Detectives
Work in teams in the field to find a dangerous leak with this game created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Distinct from the elementary school simulation with the same title, listed above.)

Foundation Business Simulation
Run a company. ($)

Making History
Prevent World War II. ($)

Objection
Conduct a trial interrogation. ($)

Supercharged
A game designed to teach the principles of electrostatic force.

Virtual U
Manage a university.

Web-Based High School Chemistry Simulations
A selection of specific scientific experiments.

Marc Prensky (marc@games2train.com) is an internationally recognized writer and speaker who focuses on education and learning, and the founder and CEO of Games2train.

Comments (3)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Renee's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The GEMS guides are terrific resources. I've used several and plan on using River Cutters this spring in my watersheds unit.

I love The Incredible Machine and have the original version of it on CD but cannot get it to work on Windows XP. Any suggestions?

Diyarbakir's picture

very good post. Thanks for sharing. Turkey high school invite you.. Diyarbakir

Mang Tran's picture

I have tried some java applets, simple ones from textbook publishers, for Algebra in High School. The kids love using them. If you know any simulation for High School Mathematics, please let me know. Thanks a lot.

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