Metabolic sim helpful, but more about facts than fun

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Subjects & Skills

Critical Thinking, Science

Price: Free to try, Paid
Platforms: iPad

Pros: Students get hands-on experience making energy and controlling metabolism systems in the human body and plants.

Cons: Instructions are sparse, all background material is located within the levels, and the timer can be off-putting.

Bottom Line: Students who use this simulation and read the background material will get a basic idea of how energy is used in body and plant systems.

Use MetaboSIM as part of a larger study on human body and/or plant systems. Self-directed learners can jump right in and learn as they go, but other students would benefit from a preliminary lesson about what to do in the game; students new to MetaboSIM can run out of time just reading the instructions and getting oriented. Have those students work with a partner to go through each level, learning about the different particles that need to be manipulated. For the more involved levels, each partner can take on specific tasks -- such as pumping the blood or taking in oxygen -- to work toward that level's goal.

While playing MetaboSIM, students work against the clock to create energy by controlling either a human or plant metabolic system. By guiding particles (oxygen, carbon dioxide, glucose, and water) inside the body or plant and combining them as needed to create energy, players keep the human or plant alive.

The two modes for the game, Human and Plant, each have nine levels. In Human, students pump the heart to move blood through the body and pump the lungs to exchange gasses and gain oxygen. They capture water, break starch apart in the stomach with the help of an enzyme, and remove cellulose from the body as waste. Pumping the heart and the lungs takes energy, so students need to use their resources efficiently. In Plant, students take in water through the roots and carbon dioxide from the air. They then combine them in a beam of sunlight through photosynthesis to create glucose for fruit and convert it to starch in the tuber. Whenever students encounter a new particle, body/plant component, or process, in either mode, they can tap a button to get more information about what it is and how it works.

For a few of the levels, students can add "upgrades" that automate some of the processes, allowing them to focus more on the parts of the simulation that interest them. If students run out of time on a level, they'll have to begin it again. Once each level is completed, the game awards between one and three stars based on how well students did.

The word "simulation" is a better descriptor for MetaboSIM than "game," since it simulates body and plant processes but isn't as engaging as games strive to be. The game does include background material on all of the included particles, relevant body/plant parts, and processes, all of which is necessary reading for students to get the most out of the app. Then, as they play, students will learn some of the basic mechanics of energy production and use in humans and plants.

Since the game levels are timed, students work against the pressure of the clock to accomplish tasks, but that can get in the way of learning. By feeling rushed, students may not internalize the lessons found within the game. If all of the instructions and background material were additionally accessible from the main menu, and if the levels weren't timed (or if turning off the timer were an in-game option), students could focus more on the metabolic processes and how they work and less on completing each level quickly. There's a lot going on in the game, which can make the screen a bit busy. Still, once students figure out a level, playing it additional times will help them solidify their knowledge and help them make sense of the metabolic systems.

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Overall Rating

High on facts but a bit low on fun, this simulation game can captivate students who are interested in how bodies make energy. But for students who prefer a more playful environment, it can take a while to get oriented.


Students control the energy in a human body and in a plant, combining particles to generate energy. Since the levels are timed, though, some students may lose the lesson under the pressure of time.


The few instructions included need to be read while the timer is already counting down; students can pause the game, but the instructions are then hidden. Background resources are included, but are only accessible from within the levels.

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