Review by Kristina Duncan, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2018
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Tyto Online

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Ambitious science role-playing game has bright future

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Science

Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Character & SEL
  • 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.
6–8
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Pros: The varied cast of characters, adaptive gaming environment, and sci-fi storyline are sure to engage kids.

Cons: It's still in active development, so some features are a little clunky, and it can sometimes be difficult to know what to do next in the game.

Bottom Line: Diverse characters, immersive experiences, and useful teacher tools make this life science RPG worth checking out.

Tyto Online is great for practice and review of basic content and vocabulary, but it doesn't stand alone as a curriculum -- teachers should still plan on using their typical ways of teaching new material.

There are lots of tools that exist (or are planned) for teachers. These include the ability to track student progress, easily create or import rosters, and assign student usernames and passwords. There are Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) correlations and summaries of the storyline and activities in each module, as well as additional quests that can be assigned for extra practice. Some (but not all) teacher guides are available, and teachers should spend a fair amount of time playing the game so that they know what to expect. Teachers should also take advantage of the support pages and helpful chat service to find extra assistance with updates and implementation.

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Tyto Online is an educational life science role-playing game (RPG) that couples an elaborate virtual environment with an engaging sci-fi storyline. Currently, there are three NGSS-aligned modules available for middle school life science: Ecology, Growth & Genetics, and Cells & Organisms. Kids play the role of a student scientist sent to the Tyto Academy, where they help researchers learn about the fictional world. Various features are available, such as a mini-map, an inventory showing points and rewards accumulated, a Biodex that catalogs the different plant and animal species, and progress trackers for the various quests and assignments. Players move freely through the virtual world, interacting with a diverse cast of characters and playing quests of their choice. Students earn points and awards for completing different tasks, which usually involve content review, observation, or working with hypotheses and evidence.

As it's still in development, some features of Tyto Online don't work as smoothly as they could, though the website indicates that new updates are frequently being implemented. Note: The game must be installed onto a device and can't actually be played online, though web access is needed to save progress. It's currently available on Windows, Mac, and Chromebooks (as an Android app).

Tyto Online gives students a novel way to review some life science concepts. It's adaptive, guiding the player through specific content with questioning, observations of the environment, simple analysis of data, and other tasks. Options enable kids to get more information on a topic if they need it or to move to the next step. An argument-building tool helps the player make connections between different pieces of evidence and construct a simple argument for a hypothesis. However, since evidence and hypotheses are predetermined options supplied by the game, kids won't get many opportunities to ask and investigate their own questions, or write their own evidence statements, hypotheses, or arguments -- unless they're using the Sandbox feature. This feature can be unlocked by the teacher to provide a more open, simulation-based experience. Note: Sandbox mode wasn't available for this review. 

The frustration potential might be high for some kids who aren't used to playing role-playing video games. It's not always obvious what you are supposed to do to complete a task, and navigating from one area to another can sometimes take a really long time. Developers might consider implementing a hint function that pops up when a player answers incorrectly or fails at a task too many times, or seems lost; otherwise, a kid may waste lots of time trying to figure out what to do instead of interacting with the content.

Overall Rating

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

Kids play a student researcher at Tyto Academy, completing quests and learning about life science along the way. The storyline is relevant to Earth's current environmental problems and is presented in a colorful 3D game.

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

This adaptive game is player-driven, while carefully structured to lead kids to the completion of their tasks. Learning is baked in, with a few opportunities for kids to generate and investigate their own questions.

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

There are lots of tips for the many features of the game, though kids may have trouble keeping track of all of them at first. There isn't a feature to redirect kids who get off track or repeatedly enter incorrect answers or arguments.


Common Sense Reviewer
Kristina Duncan Classroom teacher

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