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Games for Building Critical Thinking Skills

Students love opportunities to sink their teeth into problems that don't have clear answers, or to tackle tough challenges that test their deduction skills and knowledge. It's often out of this challenging murkiness that new perspectives and ideas emerge. Treat your students to these terrific, fun critical thinking games and watch how they develop thinking skills and more complex understandings of the world. On this list are puzzle games that help students solve problems and think ahead, story-based games that help students understand and unpack local and global issues, and strategy games that get students to manage time and resources.

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Minecraft: Education Edition

Stellar collaboration tools, controls make Minecraft classroom-ready

Bottom line: An excellent tool to engage students in learning, collaboration, and critical thinking is now more accessible than ever to teachers.

Quandary

Slick but dialogue heavy ethics game teaches students to make tough decisions

Bottom line: A versatile game that can teach ethics, argumentation, and civics is light on interactivity but will come alive through discussion.

Crayon Physics Deluxe

Influential physics game is still a draw

Bottom line: Instantly engaging and super accessible to learners of many ages and abilities, Crayon Physics Deluxe fuses conceptual science learning with a brand of playful problem solving that demands creativity.

Contraption Maker

Solve problems, puzzles, brain teasers while creating wacky machines

Bottom line: Hands-on problem-solving leads to great fun and independent learning with the right curricular wraparound to connect what kids are doing with what they need to know.

Zoombinis

Classic logic puzzler gets a beautiful new look

Bottom line: Promote powerful thinking skills, resilience, and decision making through purely fun gameplay that will keep students begging for more.

Minecraft

Spiraling sandbox of adventure and creation gets kids to dig deep

Bottom line: An irresistible and seemingly limitless incubator for 21st-century skills that, with a little guidance, can chart new courses for learning.

WordWhile: Casual Literary Fun

Clever fill-in-the-blank game playfully promotes literature

Bottom line: A different spin on reading the classics can engage students in the short term, but teachers should find ways to extend learning.

Little Alchemy

Flex alchemical muscles in discovery-based puzzler

Bottom line: While it won't teach much out of the box, Little Alchemy can be a great way to amp up the fun and build interest in math, science, history, and even literature.

Geoguessr

"Just one more turn" gameplay jazzes up geography

Bottom line: It's not a typical educational game, but students are inspired to explore the world and encouraged to think critically about what defines culture and geography.

Scribblenauts Remix

Vocab-building word puzzles inspire creative problem-solving

Bottom line: Wide-open problem solving builds creativity, vocabulary, and spelling skills, but controls can be tricky.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village

Brilliant, charming puzzler challenges kids' ELA and math skills

Bottom line: It's on Nintendo DS so it's not easy to weave into a classroom, but it's worth it, bridging ELA and math in complex puzzles guaranteed to absorb students.

Think Like Churchill

Stunning visuals, thoughtful feedback bring critical decision points to life

Bottom line: An excellent tool for studying the events and ethics that guide pivotal moments in history.

Antichamber

Brain buster makes you think in four dimensions

Bottom line: The non-Euclidean puzzles are sure to blow students' minds, but the trickier puzzles will definitely frustrate some students.

Extrasolar

Immersive exoplanet exploration game makes sleuths out of rover drivers

Bottom line: An absorbing alternate reality game that uses an authentic context to build valuable skills and offers ample opportunity for extension activities in science or ELA classrooms.

Sid Meier’s Civilization VI

Best entry in classic strategy series might not be best for classrooms

Bottom line: As with all games in this series, Civilization VI is a great learning experience with the right support, but older, cheaper versions may be more practical for classrooms.

Spent

Provocative, first-person look at poverty builds empathy

Bottom line: It'll need some scaffolding, but for students ready for the subject matter it's a great -- if sobering -- way to illustrate to students the daily realities and struggles of poverty in America.

Global Conflicts

Role play, global conversations make social studies personal

Bottom line: Overall, this game ranks "best in class" for high school students, even if competition is slim.

Political Animals

Charming political campaign sim mixes data analysis and civics

Bottom line: It's a highly entertaining and surprisingly deep way to help students see the strategy -- as well as ethical choices -- involved in elections.

Papers, Please

Mature immigration game forces tough ethical choices

Bottom line: It's a provocative simulation about ethics and immigration that could spark debate but might be tough to implement.

Parable of the Polygons

Dynamic interactive helps classrooms explore topics of bias, diversity

Bottom line: A fascinating way to address how communities become segregated due to individual bias.

The Republia Times

Unassuming editorial sim elegantly exposes the business of bias

Bottom line: What this game lacks in pizzazz it makes up for in smarts, and it's certain to get students thinking and talking about bias and media politics.

This War of Mine

Strategy game offers superb, mature take on war and civilian survival

Bottom line: A stark portrayal of civilian life in a war-torn city that requires strategic thinking and invites repeated plays.

Fate of the World: Tipping Point

Complex global-influence game in which players’ choices rule the world

Bottom line: Complex multi-issue game succeeds in teaching world politics and global development while building perspective and decision-making skills.

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