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Full Steam Ahead
Pros: Straightforward design provides increasing challenges that draw kids in.
Cons: A lack of instructional support means students will need help with the "why" of what they learn.
Bottom Line: A fascinating but most likely supplemental tool for reinforcing concepts in physics, design, and the scientific method.
Full Steam Ahead provides lots of opportunities for students to do some role-playing and engage in a mix of historical and scientific learning. To take the learning further, you might have students write scientific proposals outlining their hypotheses before they begin, and then write reports afterwards explaining the results. It would be fun to do this "in character," giving students a role set in the historical context.
In Full Steam Ahead, students design ships to meet one of eight challenges proposed by famous ship designer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. They start with some basic challenges, such as creating a ship that can hold a certain amount of weight. Ships' designs start with student-drawn blueprints modified by some key decisions such as whether to build the ship of iron or wood or whether to use paddles or screw propellers. Students then test their designs. In the first scenario, for example, a crane drops crates into the ship until it sinks. Students earn money based on how many crates the ship can hold, and more money means they can design bigger and better ships. As students complete each challenge, more challenges are unlocked.
It's slow to start, so students will require some encouragement to keep going. Once they get into it, however, the game is pretty addictive as kids design new ships and see how they stand up to a variety of challenges. Students will definitely learn a lot about various aspects of physics and ship design -- and learning happens organically. No pop-up window tells students whether wood or iron is a better building material for ships -- they just have to try both and see what happens. This can be both good and bad, as students may learn the what without knowing the why. Still, as an introduction to physics or just as a fun way to review scientific concepts, Full Steam Ahead will likely meet most teachers' needs.