Website review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2020

Martha Madison Middle School STEM

Clunky physics site covers basics, aims high, needs update

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Grades
6–8
Subjects & Skills
Science, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Covers important physics concepts, shows helpful introductory diagrams, offers the Level Builder for most games.

Cons: Site hasn't been maintained or updated; game controls are nonintuitive and hard to use; interface is hard to navigate.

Bottom Line: It covers the most vital physics concepts, but most learning is buried under outdated game mechanics.

Teachers can use Martha Madison Middle School STEM as part of a middle school physics curriculum. Because of the site's missing educational resources, have students play these games after you've already given thorough lessons on the concepts, so that they understand what they're trying to achieve in each level and why. Afterward, challenge them to design their own levels for their classmates to solve. These games don't go into much depth in the concepts they cover, so they should only be used as a supplement.

To use the site, create a teacher account, which will give you a teacher code. Then have your students sign up separately, using the teacher code to connect to your class. You'll then be able to track their game progress on the teacher dashboard, and students will be able to see their own progress on their dashboard as well. Consider printing out the game controls chart to help students who forget which buttons to press.

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Martha Madison Middle School STEM is a website that includes eight games covering important physics concepts: Electricity, Energy, Forces, Magnetism, Optics, Simple Machines: Chapter 1, Simple Machines: Chapter 2, and Waves. Each game section includes buttons giving access to play the game, to the teacher or student dashboard, and -- for teacher accounts -- a link to access instructional materials; however, the instructional materials are missing.

Students can use the computer keyboard or a game controller to play, and the games facilitate one-player or two-player gameplay. Students playing alone are able to control both of the characters in each level. Each game includes several levels that have students moving blocks, placing inclined planes, lining up magnetic fields, closing circuits, or making waves with rope. Each level includes some introductory information, but then the actual game instructions go by on the screen so quickly that many players won't be able to fully take them in, leaving them without complete instructions.

Students must then solve the objective of the level, moving both characters around to complete smaller tasks toward accomplishing the level's goal. They can access the helpful diagrams again, but there's no way to re-read the instructions. All but the Waves and Electricity games also have a Level Builder option from the main menu, allowing students to create new levels to solve or to challenge each other with.

 

The physics concepts that Martha Madison Middle School STEM cover are well chosen and are important basics that lay the groundwork for further study of physics. Students who already have a basic knowledge of the concepts may enjoy practicing applying them in the games. Those without any previous knowledge may be a bit lost, however, as the game's instructions and help options aren't easy to navigate.

Most of the games feel like clunky platformer games first, and educational experiences second. The interface isn't intuitive, and the game controls are hard to use, so students who aren't able to master the controls may get frustrated before experiencing the STEM benefits. If students can master the controls, though, the games can be somewhat entertaining and educational, but they are quick to complete. The Level Builder options have some promise, though, putting students in the driver's seat to create their own puzzles for their classmates to solve. But even those controls are slow and difficult to use and may frustrate some students.

Though the concepts covered and diagrams used seem well-matched with middle school science, the games don't go into much depth or require students to carry that foundational knowledge into grade-level work. And materials about objectives, standards, and the covered concepts just aren't there, despite there being space set aside for them. The site covers basic and very important physics concepts in some clever ways, but getting to the learning is so arduous that your efforts would be better spent elsewhere.

Overall Rating

Engagement

Initial impressions may be positive, but the game mechanics may frustrate students quickly, and controls and instructions are sometimes hard to figure out. The Level Builder option taps into student creativity, however.

Pedagogy

Students apply important physics concepts by solving platformer puzzles, but the lesson may get lost behind figuring out how to navigate the interface.

Support

The site claims to have support and instructional materials for teachers, but game-specific materials are missing. In-game help is hard to use and often not sufficient.


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