Teachers can use Backyard Engineers as an entertaining way to frame and communicate how engineers solve problems. The extensive Teacher's Guide on the game's website walks teachers through several lessons, within which this game can play a role. As a natural bridge between the digital and physical, these lessons can get students designing and building machines in the real world, as well. In addition, teachers can use project-based learning websites like Make Online and DIY to inspire students' projects. Allow them to choose something they want to do, form project teams, create designs, build projects, and present them, making sure to articulate how their projects connect to science or math concepts they've learned. For a more simple activity, students can also choose famous historical inventions and craft presentations that explain how the inventions function, using appropriate content-specific vocabulary.Continue reading Show less
Backyard Engineers is an online building game that has players design catapults to throw water balloons at targets (aka neighborhood bullies). The game uses a cartoonish style and mostly visual interface to help kids build their catapult, choosing from customizable parts that alter the catapult's operation. For example, catapults with heavy, sturdier frames are more accurate than more mobile, lighter versions. Each catapult component comes with a trade-off, with students having to prioritize among precision, range, damage, and other factors, merging practical and physical aspects of the engineering process. Students decide how many balloons to shoot each time, increasing their chances of a hit. Data is kept on how many balloons were used, how many turns were taken, and more, so placing catapults strategically to create accurate and/or large splash zones is important.
While Backyard Engineers offers students a glimpse into the iterative, problem-solving aspect of design and engineering, it's a bit too forgiving. The highly visual interface makes it easier to play but also hides the interesting and edifying mathematics underlying what the player is accomplishing. This lack of challenge and complexity makes it too easy to play by trial and error, or to stick successfully with one catapult design throughout the entire game. The game itself lacks any detailed informational text that would give students the science behind their designs. The extension activities on the website can put the lessons from this game in a much greater context, but on its own, Backyard Engineers serves as a small glimpse into the engineering thought process rather than a rigorous dive into the physics behind it.
Key Standards Supported
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.
Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6–8 texts and topics.
Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.