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

Moonbase Alpha

NASA lunar game shows students practical challenges of space

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking

Subjects
  • Science
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
8-12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (0)
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Pros: Students can work alone or in teams, and must learn to balance time and resources.

Cons: Poor introductory tutorials lead to a confusing start that will likely end in failure.

Bottom Line: Great opportunity for students to see how NASA missions work and to learn valuable management skills, but don't expect much learning about the moon itself.

Moonbase Alpha pairs nicely with units on astronomy or space exploration, but, given its learning outcomes, it's a nice option for students who need help with time/resource management. There's also a handy educator's guide that gives background and context, and plenty of lesson plans to use. Since there's tons of other resources about space and astronomy on Common Sense Education, encourage students to search for something that sparks interest and to complete a research project, or build something that demonstrates learning. Students who are particularly drawn to Moonbase Alpha might also enjoy Kerbal Space Program. In Kerbal, the challenge isn't surviving on the moon, but getting there, so it will actually provide an interesting precursor to Moonbase Alpha in a longer unit.

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Moonbase Alpha throws students into the middle of a hectic NASA mission on the surface of the moon. They see a foreign object apparently strike the lunar base they're staffing and must fix the equipment, repairing the sustainability of the self-sufficient base. After a sparse introduction on how to use the tools, students must race around the lunar surface against the meager 25 minute clock. Once students get oriented to the task and the tools, they will quickly learn to protect every second they have, allowing them to make mistakes and correct them when needed. The controls are not very intuitive and will take a little bit of time to get students oriented.

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This is not a game for learning about the moon or space, but about the practical challenges of being an astronaut. If integrated with more content-focused lessons, Moonbase Alpha can go a long way to engage students in the subject, giving them valuable context about how science is done in space, and the challenges and pressures astronauts face. Improving communication skills, teamwork, and meeting goals are core features of the game. Students may even work as competing teams, allowing them to use a little friendly rivalry as fuel for creative solutions.

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Overall Rating

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

Students might scramble after the timer has started due to an awkward interface and lack of directions. Most students will fail the first time, but team play, high scores, and the fun setting provide incentives to keep going.

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

Students learn problem solving, time and resource management, and teamwork skills, but not a lot about space. Unfortunately, the game is the same each time.

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

Online teacher resources are vital supplements to the sparse tutorial and unclear goals. Students must finish the first complete circuit to get any feedback, leaving them initially unsure of how what they're doing connects to the goal.


Common Sense Reviewer
Jenny Bristol Homeschooling parent

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