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Review by Christie Thomas, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2014

PLEx: Life Science Suite

Brilliant life science games (with curriculum) captivate and challenge

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: Interesting, meaningful life science games are supported by a complete, appealing curriculum that is right on target.

Cons: There’s a real cost-per-kid with no reciprocal ability to track student data, and alignment with NGSS could be more rigorous.

Bottom Line: Students will love it, and teachers will find it ready-made for effective implementation; just realize there’s work to be done to address conceptual understanding and NGSS expectations.

These games are best used at the middle school level in chunks of 30 minutes or so, embedded within a coordinating curriculum. So, open the Teacher Guide and use (most of) it! Consider skipping the provided pre-assessments in lieu of your own, in order to elicit student misconceptions. Then tie in extra lessons to address these misconceptions, using game time to focus on conceptual understanding with individual students or small groups.

Most students will benefit from a buddy, as games are complex and lengthy. Pair up kids as fossil experts or to grow plants, having them alternate as recorders, writing findings in their science notebooks or handouts you provide. This may help in focusing kids’ attention during gameplay, and will provide data to help complete provided exit slips or teacher-designed prompts. This is especially relevant for fully meeting NGSS expectations: You may need to craft conversations or additional lessons to help kids use game experiences as they develop models and create arguments from evidence.

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Editor's Note: While PLEx Life Science is no longer available as a package, the individual games and curriculum can still be purchased.

PLEx Life Science blends content-rich, Web-based games with print curriculum for six middle school units: plants, heredity, cells, diversity, bacteria/viruses, and body systems. Once it's purchased, users log in to the site and access their materials. Teachers will likely want to create and set up sections first so they can obtain student codes (required for adding student accounts). Students are restricted to the games and coordinating Student Guides, while teachers can also access the Teacher, Setup, and IT guides. 

The PLEx Life Science games offer students fun contexts for learning (owning a plant shop, assisting a museum curator). In these different roles, students perform tasks (filling plant orders, comparing fossils) mapped to science content and the supporting curriculum. The games are intended for repeated access (vs. just one sitting) and to be used in close conjunction with the helpful print curriculum that supports each unit and game. These materials include suggested hands-on activities and assessments.

PLEx Life Science games and curriculum are brilliantly designed with middle school students in mind -- that is, kids who are eager to jump in yet are easily distracted. Warm-up lessons introduce games through brief video overviews and guided conversation: “What will be your role in the game?” Further, “Pause-and-Think” prompts encourage discussion and reflection on students' progress. On-screen directions, accessible game guides, and dictionaries further support learners.

Gameplay develops valuable content, with simulated settings supporting big-picture ideas. Repeated tasks foster logistical confidence, allowing students to move on to more advanced challenges or intricate systems. Still, pre-assessments don’t address students’ initial ideas, and kids can complete gameplay while preserving (often hidden) misconceptions. While there's a lot of top-notch content, games and curriculum could more strongly promote conceptual understanding and be more directly tied to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Overall Rating

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

PLEx merges slick presentation and progressively challenging tasks. We're talking high-quality everything: from to-the-point directions to great background music. Gorgeous curricular handouts complete the delightful package.

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

Kids practice life science content, improving fluency and understanding. Task repetition leads to familiarity, yet increased levels keep it challenging. Superb curriculum completes the package, though NGSS alignment could be deeper.

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

Teacher help abounds: Brief videos introduce games, a setup guide has clear screenshots, and teacher cheat sheets are available. Players, though, would benefit from more in-game support (hints) and vocab linked to definitions.

Common Sense Reviewer
Christie Thomas Classroom teacher

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