Review by Chad Sansing, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2012
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Mayan Mysteries

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Captivating archaeology adventure about ancient Mayan culture

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Teachers say (2 Reviews)
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Grades
4-9 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Newly updated adventure offers an attractive interface, deep content, and varied gameplay.

Cons: Text-heavy and contains a lot of quizzing.

Bottom Line: Mayan Mysteries is a well-made, varied game teachers can use to dig into ancient Mayan civilization and modern archaeology.

It'll fit perfectly in any ancient or world history class, world culture or geography class, introductory world language class, or as part of the informational text or graphic novel section of any classroom library. Mayan Mysteries is a 'good read,' and it deserves a wide audience. Compared to most instance of 'blended learning,' this game stands out becuase of its unique content, great production values, and focus on a compelling narrative that, most of the time, gives kids a way to learn that goes beyond worrying about the 'right answer.'

 

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Mayan Mysteries is an online educational adventure game (and an iPad app) that lets kids play as Team Q, a family of adventurers who focus on protecting ancient Mayan ruins from a villainous thief. Mayan Mysteries tells the story of archaeologist Alex Quinn, niece Fionna, and nephew Charlie as they help their Central American friends stop Ladrone, a “master thief” bent on looting figures of Mayan ballplayers from the ruins of Caracol, Cerén, Copan, Tikal, Uaxactun, Palenque, and Chicen Itza.

As Team Q visits the four Mayan sites, kids undertake missions to outrun looters, map Mayan territories, uncover artifacts, and decipher Mayan riddles. Successfully completing a level releases a Mayan spirit that then transports the players into the past. In the parts of the game set in the past, players go on quests and play mini-games to learn more about the Mayans whose history they seek to protect.

Recent updates add content and new mini-games featuring pyramid exploration, archaeological ethics, and Mayan commerce, engineering, government, and warfare. 

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Mayan Mysteries shines as an example of an educational game done right. It's got an attractive 2D graphic style thats runs throughout cut-scenes, levels, and mini-games. Players acquire information by exploring the LEARN encyclopedia, a beautiful guide that boasts a user-friendly interface, well-researched articles, and a thoroughly hyperlinked in-game guide to all things Mayan.

Games are “just right” in difficulty, so students progress steadily and get frequent feedback. The mini-games mix familiar and popular game types such as board games, hidden-item games, and tap games with challenging puzzles based on the Mayan number system. These mini-games show up at the right time and make sense plotwise. For example, only after kids uncover artifacts at modern digs are they asked to spot those items in ancient Mayan homes. This game is as much fun as the classic educational game Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?; however, Mayan Mysteries puts Carmen to shame with its depth of content and robust collection of mini-games.  Recent updates have added even more information about the Maya and diversity in mini-games, but players will still find multiple reading passages and quiz games per 'level,' or site.

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Overall Rating
4

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
4
This game makes learning about ancient Mayan culture fun. The educational content is presented in an easily digestible way. Players read passages and unfold new parts of the story, which helps tie the entire game together.
Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
4
Kids can learn about the ancient Maya civilization. Players are quizzed on what they've read by playing mini-games. The game encourages players and provides them with positive reinforcement. 
Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
4

In-game help and the LEARN Encyclopedia provide kids with constant support, but most of it is text-based.


Common Sense Reviewer
Chad Sansing Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

5
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Featured review by
Lisa B. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Hershey Middle School
Hershey, PA
4
Learn about the Mayan culture through game challenges and a mystery

The learning game is presented as a mystery that needs to be solved using a detective in Mexico, an American archaeologist, and the archaeologist's niece and nephew. The visuals are cartoon in nature, but they are generally accurate based on respective photographs I've seen of the same structures and artifacts.

The game mixes story telling with questions to test for understanding, sometimes through filling in details on a map. Other challenges are just a series of multiple choice questions. As you progress through the game, you want to collect artifacts from the sites and of course points. There are also achievements to earn at some levels.

The premise is engaging and flows easily. I originally only had access to the demo version of the website, so it was limited to the first set of challenges. There are features that are offered for teachers that purchase a class license, but with only the demo account there was no way to fully explore the options and figure out how that would look in a classroom.

The website was blocked at school as a game website, it did not matter that it is an educational game. This would be a road block in being able to use in school.

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