Common Sense Review
Updated March 2012

The Oregon Trail

Strong pioneer simulation game with secondary emphasis on history
Common Sense Rating 4
  • Kids lead their families cross-country, making decisions and solving problems.
  • Kids make choices and witness the consequences of their decisions.
  • Mini-games help kids increase their food or supplies with fairly easy challenges.
  • Kids can barter supplies to get the items they need.
Pros
Kids actively participate in historical events and create meaningful connections by making choices that affect their pioneer family's fate.
Cons
Mini-games stray from learning objectives, even though some historical facts are layered on top.
Bottom Line
Classic westward expansion game just as fun as ever, but would benefit from some diverse updates.
Erin Wilkey Oh
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Education
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 5

Kid-friendly and fun design makes for long-lasting gameplay.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 3

Role-play actively engages kid and adaptive gameplay shows them the consequences of their choices. Some of the learning is layered on top, and game lacks a diversity of perspectives on historical events.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

Tips and guidance are all in text, making gameplay less accessible to some kids. Teachers can use official game website for ideas on connecting gameplay to curriculum goals; in-app teacher tools would be a helpful addition.

About our ratings and privacy evaluation.
How Can Teachers Use It?

While the game is fun for all ages, the learning content and app's design is a good fit for kids in late elementary through middle school. If teachers choose to have kids play The Oregon Trail as part of a unit of study, they might ask kids to note historical figures or U.S. landmarks they encounter along the trail and follow up gameplay with a research project. To help kids develop a broader understanding of this time in history, you could have kids create a fictional journal from an alternate point of view not presented in the app, such as a Native American, an African American, or a female pioneer.

Read More Read Less
What's It Like?

The Oregon Trail is a mobile version of the classic historical simulation game originally designed for PC. Kids play the part of a male pioneer emigrating west with his family by covered wagon. Along the journey, kids navigate the wagon through rocky terrain and across rivers, care for family members, hunt for food, and keep track of supplies. They make choices along the way and witness the consequences of their decisions.

Kids lead their family westward across the American frontier by tapping the screen to make choices about the journey. Text tips and hints help kids make informed decisions and prepare for unexpected events such as a sick family member or a broken wagon. They'll make decisions about purchasing provisions, how fast to travel, when to take a rest, and which routes to take. A set of mini-games breaks up the somewhat repetitive gameplay with fairly easy challenges to increase food or supplies. With each game transition, kids meet various historical figures and can read interesting facts about life on the wagon trail. In recent updates, The Oregon Trail has added a number of social gaming features and in-app purchases to speed up gameplay. For use in school, the mobile version of the game should be played offline.

Read More Read Less
Is It Good For Learning?

As kids lead their wife and children cross-country, they get many chances to build decision-making and problem-solving skills. For example, at a river crossing, a text-bubble pops up telling kids the river is 5 feet deep and calm, and presents options for crossing: ford it, float across, or hire some help. If the water is too deep or isn't calm, they risk losing supplies or even the drowning of a child. If kids make a poor decision, they can apply what they learn at the next crossing.

In addition to developing these important skills, peppered throughout the experience are historical tidbits and cameo appearances by famous figures in U.S. history. Kids meet personalities such as Samuel Morse and Sitting Bull, though information about them is limited. Unfortunately, the game offers no alternative to the white male experience. A more diverse perspective on this period of U.S. history would be a welcome update. Though kids can make meaningful connections to historical events through gameplay, The Oregon Trail is probably best as a supplement to broader instruction and guided exploration of this period in U.S. history.

Read More Read Less

See how teachers are using The Oregon Trail

Teacher Reviews

Write Your Own Review

Lesson Plans