Review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2017

SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge!

Truncated environmental city-planning sim geared toward classrooms

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Skills
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
6–12
Great for:
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (3 Reviews)

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Pros: Detailed simulation reflects real-life city challenges, has a helpful teacher dashboard.

Cons: Some students may get frustrated by the lack of guidance, current gameplay is abbreviated, and it's pricey.

Bottom Line: This version of the SimCity game still has something to offer, but it's probably not worth the subscription cost on its own.

No need to figure out a lesson for SimCityEDU, as the game includes a series of lessons plans that help teachers guide students through each mission. For example, the Pollution Problems lesson plan requires students to "understand how dependent (air pollution and power) and independent variables (coal plants, green technologies, factories, and nonrenewable energy resources) can lead to multiple outcomes and awareness that tradeoffs are sometimes necessary when solving complex problems." Lesson plans also include warm-up and concluding exercises that help give context to the gameplay.

The game itself includes very little guidance on how to play, however, so teachers will want to orient students (and themselves) before the game playing can begin. Students can continue their missions at home, and additional research activities -- like applying clean environment principles to other contexts -- aid knowledge transfer. While there are only four 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 four missions that explore the effect of pollution, population, power, commercial and industrial centers, 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 a decent introduction for students who love simulation and city management games, but who also have a passion for environmental issues. The game is a very abbreviated version of its past incarnation, however, with fewer missions and challenges, offering up a less complete lesson opportunity. Still, kids can practice problem-solving, systems thinking, and managing informational diagrams. They can also see how different aspects of city planning work with or against each other. Students face increasingly difficult tasks that require them to balance population, employment, industry, and power generation, and manage a town from a virtual 3/4 top-down perspective. The interface 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 only touches on certain aspects of city planning, helping to focus teachers' and students' efforts. There are few instructions, however, so students will likely get frustrated and/or confused if they aren't given a thorough explanation by teachers first. The teacher dashboard also includes a 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 rankings encourage students to constantly improve their city designs, replaying the short missions again and again. For example, students might first pass a challenge by efficiently placing bus stops so that 200 students are enrolled in school, but then work harder in subsequent plays to get 250 kids enrolled while placing fewer than seven bus stops. 

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Overall Rating

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

Mission difficulty keeps students challenged, but lack of instructions or clear options may frustrate and confuse. The missions are timed, which can either focus kids or pile on too much pressure.

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

Most of the learning is done through trial and error, since clear instructions are absent. The missions' increasing difficulty does help gradually step up students' knowledge, though.

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 mostly left to figure out the game on their own, with the game lacking a built-in tutorial. There's a lesson plan given for each mission, however, which provides context for students. 


Teacher Reviews

(See all 3 reviews) (3 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Marla Kay D. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Forest Lake Education Center
Longwood, FL
Great way to immerse students into environmental awareness and problem-solving!

Learning how to collaboration is one of the most important aspects of this game. Students must learn to work together and share ideas in order to solve the missions for the town. There are many ways to integrate SimCityEdu into the curriculum, and GlassLab offers lesson plan ideas and support to help with integrating educational gaming into the curriculum. Giving students "real world" decision-making experience in a classroom setting is an awesome way to reinforce the curriculum.
Possible "con's" might include the expense, and student frustration about limited time for mission completion. Several laptops or a computer lab is needed for gaming.

All in all, I think this game has much to offer students studying Social Studies, Science and Literature.

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