Review by Emily Pohlonski, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2016

The Yard Games

Short games simplify middle school science ideas

Subjects & skills
  • Science

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Games help engage kids who are normally turned off by science.

Cons: Simplified games may lead to misconceptions; extra support will be required.

Bottom Line: Game-based learning that breaks down big science systems.

Teachers can use the games as phenomena or puzzles for students to solve. With the antibiotic resistance game, encourage students to play it multiple times to try to figure out which ways of dosing antibiotics kill off the bacteria and which ways lead to more antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Using this information, students could create a set of rules about antibiotic use. Kids could even create their own public service announcement about why antibiotic misuse can lead to superbugs.

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The Yard Games are free online simulations that help fifth- to eighth-grade students learn about important science systems. Kids play each interactive activity for 10 to 20 minutes and can learn about the carbon cycle, the water cycle, antibiotic resistance, waves, magnetism, earthquakes, and more. Students play right in their browsers without any downloads or logins.

Each game starts with a short cartoon that introduces the major concepts and the problem. Goofy characters continue to provide background information through short tutorials, which, with the right mindset, can play like a game. Some of the activities are single-player, and others allow kids to play against each other.

Wisconsin teachers teamed up with developers to design the Yard Games, hoping to make science systems easier to understand. This is particularly helpful since the Next Generation of Science Standards place an emphasis on systems and scale as cross-cutting concepts. In some games, such as The Carbon Cycle, tutorials are available to teach kids how to play. It is important that students read through this fine print, because crucial scientific rules are spelled out, such as that matter can't be created or destroyed. The Carbon Cycle scaffolds learning by first showing them how the carbon will move through the atmosphere as they play and then taking that support away, so students have to figure it out for themselves.

The games do not stand alone and will require additional support and coaching by a teacher. For example, students playing the Antibiotic Resistance game could click through it and make the assumption that the antibiotic itself is causing the mutations on individual bacteria, making them resistant. The Yard Games is missing a teacher's guide or support questions to ensure that these misconceptions don't happen. While the cartoon at the beginning presents an issue, such as the bacteria on their pizza, this storyline doesn't necessarily continue throughout the game. The Yard Games would be improved if the kids could feel as if they had solved a problem by playing the game. 

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Games are fun, and the characters are silly. Some activities have local multiplayer opportunities, giving kids a chance to play against their friends.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Simulations simplify the science to make it easier for students to understand. Teachers will need to step in and make sure this simplification doesn't lead to misunderstandings.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

In some games, such as The Carbon Cycle, tutorials are available to teach kids how to play. Support for teachers, such as guiding questions, is missing.

Common Sense Reviewer
Emily Pohlonski Classroom teacher

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