GlassLab, the publisher, identifies Water Bears EDU as a middle school game. This is a bit of a stretch given middle schoolers' expectations. Other games in that age group, like Civilization, SimCity, or Star Realms, better model the complexity of different interconnected systems and are far more engaging -- although they don't feature the handy teacher dashboard. Sure, teachers would need to scaffold and support their students in one of these more complex games, but, in a connected learning classroom, that support is what teachers do best. For younger students (grades 4-6), however, Water Bears EDU could be a good gateway, especially with follow-up via other activities and lessons.Continue reading Show less
Water Bears EDU is a pipe-laying puzzle game a la Pipe Mania from 1989 but updated in 3D for iOS. Playing it is initially very engaging. I found myself enjoying the first few levels, anticipating lots more with increasing difficulty and complexity. I was looking forward to convoluted levels that supported creative ways to arrange pipes of water to the adorable water bear creatures.
However, this didn't quite happen since Water Bears EDU is surprisingly short; by the time users complete introductory levels (of which there were many), they'll discover that they've completed the game. Instead of non-introductory levels that offer new twists and progressions, there’s a series of optional challenge levels that vary widely in difficulty. Unfortunately, these levels' difficulty too often forces players toward one particular solution. This means that players might end up doing brute-force trial-and-error rather than using higher-order thinking and creativity.
Water Bears EDU is a novel effort at helping teachers visualize and assess students' systems thinking development, but falls short at delivering a learning experience on par with what students expect and need. While it’s great that systems thinking and specific science standards are met and tracked through Water Bears EDU, what teachers gain in classroom administration is lost in learning experience, and few teachers will want to make that trade-off. Even with the addition of badges, kids will likely lose interest since the systems presented in the game are simple to the point of being patronizing. There's also an accessibility concern in that later levels add color mixing and extraction to the water, but this feature wouldn't work for kids with red-green color blindness.
Key Standards Supported
Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.
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