App review by Mark Chen, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2013
Universe Sandbox
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Universe Sandbox

Superb sandbox for astrophysics experimentation

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Editorial review by Common Sense Education
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6–12 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.
Subjects & Skills
Science, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Richly detailed with lots of different pre-set scenarios to test out and visualize.

Cons: Some players may find it difficult to stay engaged after running through the pre-set content.

Bottom Line: An impressive -- and complex -- tool that encourages a playful, systems thinking-oriented exploration of the universe and astrophysics.

Teachers can easily incorporate Universe Sandbox into physics or astronomy classes, as it does a good job of simulating angular momentum, gravity, kinetic motion, etc. It can be used as a demonstration tool, projected to the class to illustrate key concepts in action, or as a digital laboratory for students to design and run experiments of their own. The game is probably best played individually or in pairs at students’ own pace, as it really encourages playful exploration and rewards spontaneous testing of different ideas with immediate feedback. To help guide play, encourage students to think scientifically by designing and testing hypotheses using Universe Sandbox. 


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Universe Sandbox may take the award for most literal name -- well, maybe it if were prefaced with “Amazingly Effective and Detailed.” In it, players can experiment with an immense 3-D simulation of our universe, including its galaxies, star systems, planets, moons, and comets. Players can select any of these objects, view their properties and even change them, seeing how changes impact trajectory and orbit, and how the object would interact differently with other objects. All this is presented in a gorgeous visualization with a very elegant user interface. If Copernicus and Galileo were alive today, they would surely delight in exploring the sandbox for days on end. 

It does an extremely good job of helping players understand the different properties of interstellar objects and how various objects are intricately tied together. For example, students can change the mass of one of Saturn’s moons and watch as, over time, it affects Saturn and its other moons. Perhaps the best part of Universe Sandbox is how it lets players test out big experiments, like making two galaxies collide or throwing asteroids at the Earth. It begs players to just mess around and explore, learning experientially and playfully as they see big concepts and complex relationships in action.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Pre-set scenarios initially engage players, but, after they complete them, there's no inherent incentive to keep playing.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

It's an exemplary visualization tool, allowing kids to see multiple variables in action and how they interact. There are no specific objectives, however, other than to observe causes and effects.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

Includes very well-scripted tutorials and a relatively active online community. It could use color-blind options for some of the visualization tools that rely on color (for example, color-coding velocity).

Common Sense reviewer
Mark Chen Researcher

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