Common Sense Review
Updated September 2015

Fossil Forensics

Appealing science game has strong concept, leans on external context
Common Sense Rating 3
Teacher Rating (1 Teacher Review) 4
  • Choose among the three topics; each has four levels.
  • Make connections of similar skeletal traits between fossils.
  • Each level brings new dinosaur fossils to study and/or pedestals for display.
  • At the end of each level, the curator will score players' matches.
  • Higher levels have tougher and more elaborate match requirements.
Pros
An attractive introduction to scientific thinking.
Cons
Without context or additional instruction, students may find themselves making fossil connections by guessing rather than through critical thinking.
Bottom Line
The game is a solid portion of a scientific lesson, but requires the student/teacher guides for the full experience.
Jenny Bristol
Common Sense Reviewer
Homeschooling parent/instructor
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 3

Students might enjoy the appealing art style and puzzle-solving play style, but without the hints, they may resort to guessing because of the lack of in-game context. Limited feedback means player choices feel a bit like guesswork.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 2

Students make interesting evolution-based fossil connections between fictional animals, but aren't given enough guidance to reliably discover the science behind their decisions.

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

There's an initial tutorial, but the teacher/student guides are necessary for learning the context behind students' in-game decisions and to ground play in scientific thinking.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Fossil Forensics can serve as a quick introduction to evolution, but it's better used as an in-class activity along with the website's student and teacher guides as lessons. Or, teachers can use the game as a launching point, and follow up with more explicit instruction on how evolution works, with references to and illustrations of the existing fossil record of actual prehistoric creatures. Students could then do research into contemporary animals that interest them and into the evolutionary development of those animals. Via a presentation or project portfolio, students could then submit a rough evolutionary tree showing how traits evolved and why, and how different species are related to one another. Outside of biology, Fossil Forensics' style of analysis pairs well with an archaeology unit, where scientists use similarly evidence-based comparative analysis but focus on culture. 

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What's It Like?

Fossil Forensics is a short browser-based game that shows students how scientists examine fossil evidence. Students take on the role of creating museum displays that include evolutionary connections among fictional fossils. The game has a pleasant visual style, and uses familiar connect-the-dots style gameplay that students should find appealing. To do their scientific analysis, students look at the skeletons of a set of fictional creatures, connect similar attributes between the fossils, and then make claims about evolutionary progression. The controls are simple, but drawing the connections requires attention to detail and close examination of similarities. Be aware that students might rely on random guessing rather than thinking critically, so try to encourage more thoughtful play. 

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Is It Good For Learning?

If the game is used in the context of the student and teacher guides on the website, it can function ably as part of a larger lesson and conversation on fossils, adaptation, and evolution. Students who play methodically will do some scientific thinking, but without the external materials, there's not enough grounding in actual science to connect critical thinking to the content. Students analyze fictional fossils, and they make broad evolutionary claims with just a little evidence. Still, students study different parts of fossils such as skull holes, limb structure, teeth type, beak composition, tail type, ambulatory method, and more. Advanced students might be bored by the lack of depth, but students who just need a quick primer on evolution should be satisfied.

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