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Tip of the Week: SimCityEDU

Yesterday I talked a bit about the pedagogy of video game theory – a little of the hows and whys of how game design can be used to help teachers develop high quality instructional units.

And I promised a practical example of how video games can be embedded into lesson design.

There’s been some buzz from the SimCity people over the last few months about a possible online video game tool. The promise has been that this tool would include an educational-based version of the game and a collaborative network designed just for teachers.

This week, the partnership between Electronic Arts and GlassLab delivered on their promise and opened up the official SimCityEDU web site. The site is an online resource for teachers who have a strong interest in utilizing digital platforms as a learning tool. The focus is on STEM stuff but a quick look suggests that social studies folks can get a lot out of it as well.

An example would be the middle school lesson plan requiring students to study how representative government functions – especially from a city building perspective – to determine how to prioritize public works projects. The lesson includes game play, research, collaboration, and writing – all stuff the Common Core ELA literacy standards (and the proposed Kansas Social Studies standards) are asking our kids to mess with.

Each unit includes the instructional design as well as all of the materials needed to deliver the instruction, including:

  • Learning Goals
  • Essential Ideas
  • Assessments
  • Documents
  • Differentiation Strategies
  • Assignment Workflow
  • Game Setup

There’s also a nice FAQ section.

After creating a free account, you also have the ability to create your own lessons and share them with others – and using the work of others. (Full disclosure? I’m having trouble getting the log-in screen to work. I have my fingers crossed that by the time you get to it, they’ll have this bug worked out!)

For the past couple of months, the SimCityEdu people have been working with former social studies teachers Rick Brennan and Jason Darnell to play the game and create lesson plans. In an newsletter earlier this month, the site posted a handy Q and A session with both of them:

What makes the SimCityEDU community a valuable resource for teachers?
Jason Darnell: SimCityEDU offers a support platform for teachers to share specific successes from their classrooms. More than that, the community itself is a curriculum collaboration tool for twenty-first century teaching. Bringing a game like SimCity into the classroom requires both teachers and students to step outside of their traditional roles in the classroom and to collaborate and create through game play.

Can you walk us through a lesson plan you’ve created for the database?
Rick Brennan: One of our lesson plans is called ‘Power to the People.’ Students role-play the job of SimCity mayor, prioritizing public works projects they might want to build. Should they build a hospital or school first?  A police station or a public park? And why? And what if their SimCity citizens disagree with their decisions? What then? Once students finalize their list of priorities, they must defend their decisions by writing a persuasive essay. So, the lesson helps teach popular government, public works, and how to write an original essay—all at once!

How easy or difficult is it for teachers to create curriculum around the SimCity game?
RB: I think SimCity is inherently a learning-rich environment, so teachers should find it rather easy to make connections to their curriculum, no matter the class they teach. After playing the game, so many classroom connections came to mind that I had to stop writing them down!

What feature of the game do you think will inspire teachers the most?
JD: I’m looking forward to seeing how teachers incorporate SimCity’s new multi-player component into their lesson plans. The fact that students will be able to work collaboratively to solve real-world problems really opens up the possibilities of lesson planning and classroom implementation.

Any advice for users as they begin submitting their own lesson plans?
RB: I’d recommend designing the lesson plans with different teacher types in mind. And also, remember to walk your readers through the lesson plan step by step.

Have you developed any type of approach while writing curriculum for SimCityEDU that teachers might find helpful when creating/submitting their own lesson plans?
RB: I’d suggest that teachers set aside a few hours to get lost in SimCity’s stunning, real to life game play – and be sure to take notes, because this game is a twenty first century teaching tool.
What aspect of the SimCityEDU community excites you most?
JD: Well, the community itself! Very soon we’ll have an online platform filled with the stories, experiences and works of teachers across the country and beyond. Also, bringing SimCity into the classroom will hopefully prompt teachers to adjust or adapt their classroom roles, since the game aids in their instruction. We see SimCityEDU as a major step in the right direction for public education.

The research is pretty clear. Using video games like Sim City is good for kids. And now tools like SimCityEdu are beginning to make it easier for us to actually use them.

Have fun!

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