Zoo Guardians

Busy conservation-themed sim requires time, teacher oversight

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Expert evaluation by Common Sense

Grades

3–6

Subjects & Skills

Science

Great for

Game-Based Learning, Instructional Design

Price: Free
Platforms: Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch

Pros: Full of decisions focused on animal care. Interesting animal facts.

Cons: Extra rewards are locked behind microtransactions and ads. Requires daily/hourly interaction.

Bottom Line: If the ads and transactions aren't a no-go, this game -- with a lot of teacher support -- could get students hooked on digging deep into the animal world.

Zoo Guardians needs a lot of time and attention to be worth using. Teachers should spend one to three hours previewing the game and learning how it all works before introducing it to the class. Students will also need their own devices, as each game evolves based on what decisions the player makes. Talk to students about the microtransactions. Discuss why game designers use this model and what your class policies are for in-app purchases and watching ads. Because the game works best if students play regularly, teachers might consider assigning 10 to 15 minutes of play every day for homework. To bring the lessons off-screen, teachers could have their students keep a log of what animals they're learning about. They can write the animal's name, where it lives, what its preferences and needs are, and so on. Students can also write reflections on what animals they were able to save and successfully release into the wild and which ones didn't thrive. Explore themes of conservation in other ways by watching documentaries, reading about animals or organizations working to save animals, and learning about what roles zoos play in animal welfare. Make sure to present arguments both for and against zoos, aquariums, and others similar facilities.

Zoo Guardians is a simulation and resource management game that has players build and run their own zoo. The aim of the game is to promote conservation, so players adopt and place endangered species in the correct biomes and see to their welfare. Players care for the animals by giving them food and enrichment, and by keeping enclosures appropriately sized and clean. The ultimate goal is to release healthy and well-cared-for animals back into the wild. Each day brings  quests to complete and upkeep to do, all of which earn coins or Zoo IQ. More Zoo IQ leads to more game features and more available animals. Each animal has a fact card; students collect more facts as they play. Students can observe their virtual animal up close in its enclosure, watch live video footage of animals from the Smithsonian Zoo, or enter AR mode to place the virtual animal in the room with them and interact with it and take photos. There are multiple categories of coins, levels, gems, and food to earn and spend on expanding and improving the zoo and animal welfare. Microtransactions ask kids for real money -- or sometimes to watch a "safe" ad -- to buy items for their zoo or speed up certain processes that would otherwise require waiting. The Smithsonian Zoo is prominently displayed as the app's co-developer.

If students get into it, Zoo Guardians can be an engrossing experience. As students build and expand on their zoo, they'll learn what animals need through fact cards and videos as well as experimentation. There's a lot to keep on top of, including making sure animals are placed in the right habitat, with the right companion animals (if any); given the right food; provided the right enrichment; and so on. If students get into a good rhythm, they may start to feel a sense of responsibility to their virtual animals, which may transfer to a similar sense of responsibility toward supporting real-life conservation efforts. But this is not a game for occasional light interaction or casual players. The key to meaningful play is putting in the time and attention to learn how all the pieces/systems of the game work, and interacting regularly enough to see how different choices and actions affect the animals' well-being. Not all teachers have the time or resources to be able to support that kind of investment. Even so, students might also just get overwhelmed by the busy screen and click on icons to advance things without ever digging into the info about animals and their well-being. It's also disappointing to find so many opportunities for microtransactions and the inclusion of ads. This might make it a tough sell, or an impossibility, for many if not most classrooms.

Learning Rating

Overall Rating
Engagement

The virtual zoo is a fun place to play and watch animals. AR brings the animals into the room for extra excitement. Some students may not get past the confusing rules and busy presentation.

Pedagogy

Students learn about habitat, diet, and much more. They also practice management skills while building and running the zoo. It's easy to just click on icons rather than engage in deep learning, though.

Support

There are basic text explanations, but they don't feel like enough guidance, especially for students who get stuck or lost. Some learning extensions are included, such as live videos.

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