Review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2014


Biology game's wealth of information helps and hinders

Subjects & skills
  • Science

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Tons of information means students will always find something new.

Cons: Games can't be saved, and it's complex enough to suit only advanced students.

Bottom Line: It's got a ton of learning potential not yet packaged, paced, and delivered in a way that will get all students on board.

It'll probably fit in best as an exploratory, independent study tool for advanced placement students or accelerated learners. Students who don't already have a high level of basic cell biology vocabulary will end up absorbing new terms and knowledge they can bring back to discussions in class, or reframe through presentations or other demonstrations of learning such as cell model creation. Unfortunately, since there's no way to save the game or track progress, students must play the whole game in one sitting, and teachers must use the honor system to award credit.

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Meta!Blast is a biology game under development at Iowa State University that shrinks players down to microscopic size and immerses them in the world of a plant cell. It's up to the player to learn about the cell and rescue a team of stranded scientists. As students fly through the plant, they must collect data to complete a very detailed dictionary of biological information. Students get to see firsthand what cells are made of and how they work, providing a more interactive and exploratory version of the classic cell diagram found in biology textbooks.

There's a slight disconnect between the content -- aimed at advanced placement high school students or college-level students -- and the relatively simplistic and limited gameplay, which better suits younger kids. There's definitely a lot of information to obtain, and it's a great way to spice up a cell diagram, but what's learned could use additional context and instructional design, and less reliance on advanced terminology to explain concepts. As is, the interface may be a stumbling block for some students, but others won't mind, given the high-quality visual design of the cell.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Detailed graphics don't quite make up for the lack of design polish. Players may be put off by the difficult-to-control ship and tools, and the buried goals.

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

Players are immersed in a veritable pool of knowledge, but they'll also need to wade through a lot of extraneous information.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Very basic tutorials don't offer enough to deal with the rapid progression and lack of context. Data isn't saved, and there's little feedback -- except for snarky prompts.

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