Review by Debbie Gorrell, Common Sense Education | Updated July 2017
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Sim Cell - Touch Press Games

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Biology game's missions overshadowed by poor controls

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Grades
6-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Kids learn by doing -- they keep a cell safe from viral damage while learning cool stuff about biology.

Cons: Without hints and a clear progress-tracking system, it's easy to get off track on a mission; free play is limited to a few missions in the human cell.

Bottom Line: With some game control improvements and the addition of hints to keep kids on track, Sim Cell could be an excellent biology resource.

Teachers can use Sim Cell as a fun way to practice before a test about organelles. Challenge students to scan as many organelles as possible within a certain time frame. As kids scan each organelle, have them create a flash card that shows on one side what the organelle looks like and on the other, a description of its function. Treat the missions as bonus exercises. As students complete them, they earn points on a leaderboard; have students self-reflect on their progress and discuss as a class which missions kids completed and what challenges they encountered.

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In Sim Cell, kids are challenged to complete missions inside a cell. The graphics are beautiful, and missions are narrated in a way that makes users feel like scientists. There are two options to explore: a human body cell and a plant cell. However, only the human body cell is accessible free of charge, and even that includes only a few missions before users are prompted to pay for a full version.

After kids tap the human body figure to explore the human cell, a narrator describes the goal within the cell. A virus has attacked a human, and players must complete a series of missions to save the human. Kids navigate a nanobot within the cell by dragging their fingers across the screen, and they can tap any organelle or other object within the cell to learn about it. The first few missions include entering the cell, finding and towing a lysosome, using the lysosome to absorb the virus, entering the nucleus, and destroying viral DNA. After the viral DNA is destroyed, users must pay to access the rest of the human cell missions and all of the plant cell missions.

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Sim Cell helps students learn about the structure and function of organelles within cells. As kids use a nanobot to explore a cell, they can tap on an organelle (or other object within the cell) to scan it and read a description of how it functions. As they complete missions within the human cell, kids can also learn about cell processes, viruses, and how to protect the cell from viral damage. Requiring students to answer a few questions before moving on with their missions could improve the learning value of the game.

There's also an obvious lack of instructions and hints, other than what the narrator says during each mission. While that might be a design decision, it's not always clear what needs to be done and why some things happen. For example, there are small blue objects floating in the cell. When the nanobot comes into contact with these objects, a sound is produced but no explanation is offered. It would be helpful to have a set of written instructions that kids can refer to throughout the game.

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Overall Rating
2

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
3

Most kids will enjoy traveling through a cell as a nanobot, and being tasked with missions is exciting and motivating.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
2

Kids can freely explore as they learn how organelles work to keep a cell healthy. Navigation difficulties could heavily distract from learning.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
2

The graphics and supporting text describe organelles and their functions, although kids have to stop what they are doing to read about each organelle. Hints aren't provided.


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