Zoo U

Research-based social game has terrific assessment potential

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Expert evaluation by Common Sense

Grades

K–5

Subjects & Skills

Character & SEL, English-Language Learning

Great for

Behavior Management, Classroom Management, Instructional Design, SEL

Price: Free to try
Platforms: Web

Pros: Engaging animations, positive reinforcement, and rich assessments boost kids' social problem-solving skills.

Cons: Some kids may lose focus while completing the baseline assessment, but it's worth the time put in.

Bottom Line: A powerful and focused social problem-solving game designed to reach kids who need direct instruction.

Teachers can use Zoo U as a way to gather assessment information about students' social language skills. Encourage students to complete as many scenarios as they can while setting goals for how many coins they should earn along the way. Teachers might also use Zoo U to reinforce social skills with a group of students: Allow the teacher to be in control of the game, while projecting the scenario to the whole group. Together, decide on the best course for the avatar to take and discuss decisions to improve inner thinking skills (metacognition) and social problem-solving. During regular intervals, teachers should record or print data captured by the teacher dashboard. Discuss growth or setbacks with students and parents as the year progresses.

Zoo U is an online game that begins with an introduction and tutorial presented by an animated zookeeper, Principal Wild. Kids get oriented by tapping six sticky notes and following directions in a brief tutorial in an opening practice room. They make decisions by clicking on one of two or three choices within thought or speech bubbles. Once the preliminary scenarios are completed and their baseline data is automatically recorded, kids can practice specific skills such as empathy, managing feelings, self-control, and more. Within each scene (each of which can take between 15 and 30 minutes to complete), kids encounter conversations and social problems. To navigate these situations successfully, kids click on different blue-outlined elements (like characters or objects) to view an animation and get more info. Based on their choices, kids can earn coins to add to their bank. Meanwhile, their progress is also recorded for parents and teachers to view.

At any time, kids can choose to go back to the practice room and go through the tutorial again. Each conversation is represented in a speech bubble in addition to being read aloud, providing support to students who might be overwhelmed with processing a lot of text. Some challenges require a small puzzle that's good practice for kids with fine motor delays.

Zoo U was designed by psychologists and therapists at the 3C Institute to help kids practice navigating social situations. The baked-in learning that occurs as kids solve social problems makes this game both engaging and impactful. Because the game regularly gathers data based on student choices, it's both a fun experience for kids and a worthwhile investment for parents and teachers. The review videos at the end of each scenario also help kids remember the choices they made and help adults talk through the decisions kids led their avatar through.

The game gives meaning and words to sometimes abstract social situations, which is incredibly valuable for learning. For instance, when giving directions to a character on how to find the ball, the game reminds kids to take on that character's perspective, instead of their own. Then the game reviews how students performed immediately after completing the challenge. This direct feedback, paired with specific social vocabulary reinforcement, makes the game a great learning tool.

Learning Rating

Overall Rating
Engagement

Social scenarios presented as a virtual role-playing game will both keep kids' attention and help them commit social norms to memory.

Pedagogy

The site incorporates a wonderful balance of role-playing, consequences, and long-term and short-term rewards. Learning social skills is fun, and the app helps teachers easily gather assessment information.

Support

In-game support appears on each screen, and tips guide students through decisions at the end of each scenario. The teacher dashboard provides a community of social learning support, lesson ideas, and plans based on specific skills.

Common Sense reviewer
Ashley K.
Ashley K. STEM Project Manager

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