Common Sense Review
Updated September 2013

Citizen Science

Comical narrative game shows intersection of ecology and social issues
Common Sense Rating 4
Pros
Authentically mixes science and the humanities.
Cons
Ends just when subjects/issues reach the complexity they deserve.
Bottom Line
A polished introduction to the interaction between science and politics that's a bit linear but gets students gathering and using evidence.
David Thomas
Common Sense Reviewer
Director of academic technology
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

Although heavy on narrative, Citizen Science keeps things light and interesting with time travel, comical anime characters, and devious talking rodents.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

Citizen Science enlivens algae lifecycles and ecological decisions and consequences with an amusing interactive simulation. The simple lake model is helpful, while the persuasion simulation feels mechanical.

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

The game carefully walks students through how to play without feeling too pedantic. The downside: If students get stuck, they're left clicking around the screen trying figure out why.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Because the game is text-heavy, teachers will most likely find this a useful exercise for students to pursue alone. Used as homework, for example, Citizen Science could lead to productive class discussion about current science and community issues (e.g., recycling programs or carbon emission mandates) or as a platform for discussing how to collect evidence and construct arguments. Because the game leads the players through the scientific issues at hand while also highlighting larger skills and competencies, students don’t need to be engaged in classroom units on ecology or argumentation to still get something out of it.

Citizen Science also serves as a good introduction to a community-based research project. After playing, get students to target an ecological or environmental issue in their community. Students should gather information about the issue, identify stakeholders, and prepare an argument or presentation that convinces key decision-makers of the proper course of action to solve the problem.

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What's It Like?

Presented in a breezy Japanese anime style, Citizen Science invites players to think about the delicate interplay of science and public interest. The game starts with a strange tale of time travel, and then tasks the player with saving a lake from the varied interests of environmental protestors, farmers, fishermen, and local homeowners. Traveling back and forth through time, and accompanied by a giant talking muskrat, the player collects data, evidence, and arguments by running experiments, talking to characters, and playing with a snow globe-style simulation of the lake. With this evidence and data in tow, the player forms persuasive arguments used to sway public opinion. Although a bit linear, Citizen Science manages to walk players through some rich interactions and policy decisions.

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Is It Good For Learning?

Tackling the subject of lake ecology or public policy and opinion alone would be enough for most games. By weaving these two topics together in a lightweight, interactive simulation, Citizen Science manages to do both subjects justice. Because students actually explore the environment when collecting data and talking to characters, they see firsthand how to gather the evidence necessary to construct a persuasive argument and make good decisions. By running simple if/then experiments using the built-in mini-simulation, students can also witness how different choices impact the lake's health. These dynamic elements don't match the scope of something like SimCity, but they still help students see how different points of view and variables interact. In the end, the game’s rewards match the learning outcomes; students will find that the right research and the right arguments lead to positive outcomes.

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