Review by John Sooja, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2014

SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge!

Classic city-building game tuned to teachers' needs

Common Sense Says:
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5-8 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Top notch support and learning design make game-based learning more accessible than ever.

Cons: Some students may want to skip challenges that don't feature city map style gameplay, and it's pricey/hardware intensive.

Bottom Line: SimCityEDU takes a top notch game kids already love, and removes any doubts for teachers, offering a polished platform for teaching critical thinking, textual analysis, and sustainability.

No need to figure out a lesson for SimCityEDU, the game includes a series of lessons plans that take students through each mission. For example, the Mission 4 Lesson Plan, “Pollution Problems,” requires students to “understand how multiple variables, such as coal plants, green technologies, factories, and non-renewable energy resources, can lead to multiple outcomes and an awareness that tradeoffs are sometimes necessary when solving complex problems.” Teachers can access each mission’s “cheat sheet” and gameplay video tutorials. Students can continue their missions at home, and additional research activities -- like applying clean environment principles to other contexts -- aid knowledge transfer. While there's only six missions, students can extend learning via self-reflective writing activities that analyze how they solved problems during play.

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SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge!  features six missions, each with three to five challenges, that explore the affect of pollution and other environmental issues on cities. Based on the SimCity engine, SimCityEDU has players tackle practical city planning issues like how to create more jobs without causing more pollution or how to get every kid to school by planning the most efficient use of bus stops.    

It's fantastic platform for kids who love simulation and city management games, but also have a passion for environmental issues. Kids can practice problem solving, systems thinking, and managing informational diagrams. Even better, they to see how various forms of pollution affect the real world. Kids face increasingly difficult tasks that require them to create flow charts, solve environmental problems via textual evidence, and manage a town from a virtual 3/4 quarter top down perspective. The interface elegantly displays the overall pollution level, population happiness level, electricity coverage, and business traffic, helping kids make decisions and plan their cities.

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The base version of SimCity can be intimidating to teachers, but this version offers a robust suite of tools built with the classroom in mind. Teachers will love that lesson plans are linked to Common Core standards, include assessment tools, and offer live monitoring of student progress. Mission leaderboards and star-based rankings encourage students to devour learning content, replaying the short missions again and again. For example, students might first pass a challenge by efficiently placing bus stops so that most kids can get to school (one star), only to play the challenge again in order to get every kid to school (two stars), and again by using as few bus stops as possible (three stars). 

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Overall Rating

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

Mission variety keeps interest high, and since each performance is rated kids are incentivized to try to replay them and do better. The missions are also timed and paced perfectly. 

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

SimCityEDU takes an already great learning experience and makes it even better, allowing kids' progress to be saved, tracked, and assessed.

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

Players are eased in and there are tons of helpful features including teacher and student dashboards, student data reporting, leaderboards, progress reports, lesson plans, cheat sheets, and tutorials. 

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John Sooja Classroom teacher

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