Teachers can use the game to simulate exploring the surface of another planet. It's great for homework, or for partner or small-group activities in class over a period of time. It will likely generate interest in topics such as Mars or moon exploration. If you play the game as a class, it will generate discussion about gathering information, devising strategies, and solving mysteries. You can also speculate about what is happening and why, choose what steps to take next, and use all of this inspiration for writing assignments.
There are also several secondary websites to explore that give more information about the game, including one for the fictional XRI company, and Exoleaks, kept by the conspiracy theorist.Continue reading Show less
Extrasolar is an alternate reality game (ARG), a type of game that blurs boundaries between what is real and fake. The premise of Extrasolar is that a company, XRI, is looking for rover drivers to help explore the surface of an exoplanet.
When players initially try to sign up for the rover-driving program, they're told that they've not been accepted, but then someone investigating a conspiracy at XRI intervenes and sneaks the player in. After some training, students send commands to the rover to move around the surface and take photos, tagging anything interesting for further study. They periodically get messages from the people at XRI and the conspirator, both of whom give information and assign tasks. A dashboard organizes all of the information, including messages, tasks, a rover location map, a discovery gallery, planet status, and players' profiles. Also, whenever there is new information to look at, players are sent an email reminder to check the site. Players read messages, watch videos, and listen to audio files to help them decide what the rover should do next. Note that the free version of the game restricts players to one photo from the planet every four hours. Paying money can reduce that time and give players additional functionality, but it's not necessary.
It's a highly engaging experience: Players feel like they're participating in an actual project with real people giving feedback. It's great fun and will keep students interested for some time -- although that time is extended by the gaps between communications. In terms of learning, students follow directions, use deduction, practice decision-making, and exercise critical thinking while exploring an unknown world. What will happen? What is the company hiding? How can I investigate? Students also must be patient since, even with the paid version, they'll need to wait for the images to come back from the rover. If the game is played together with two or more people, it can also generate discussion about how to choose the next steps and what mysteries are hidden on the planet. Some actual science is discussed, such as plant biology, but it isn't the focus of gameplay. A few more authentic, content-focused missions could make Extrasolar a can't-miss for teachers, but it's still great as is.
Key Standards Supported
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.
Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).
Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.
Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claim or a recommendation for solving a scientific or technical problem.
Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
Key Standards Supported
Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity
Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment.
Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.
Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.
From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
Use argument based on empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support an explanation for how characteristic animal behaviors and specialized plant structures affect the probability of successful reproduction of animals and plants respectively.
Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms.
Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms.
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