Review by Mieke VanderBorght, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2014

Whyville

Overwhelming social virtual world explores science and citizenship

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Character & SEL
  • College & Career Prep

Subjects
  • Science
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
5-8
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: Kids are proactive players in an intricate virtual world.

Cons: That virtual world is huge and overwhelming with little guidance; many games are confusing.

Bottom Line: Though there are unique games and good opportunities for active participation, there are also significant issues to watch out for.

Whyville has some neat games that can tie into a variety of science units. For example, in one game, kids examine the genetic makeup of embryos inside dragon eggs to determine what kinds of characteristics that baby dragon will have (e.g., boy or girl? Wings or no wings?). Game quality and relevance vary greatly, so teachers should search through and test out games to find the good ones. Teachers could also focus on the citizenship aspect. Have kids explore possible careers, "work" to earn clams, manage their earnings, set up a household, care for pets, engage in government, and more. Kids can experiment with playing different roles and report on their experiences. What was it like to be in charge? How did financial decisions last week affect what they were able to do today? How does the heavy advertising affect what they do with the clams they earn? Teachers will want to steer clear of the chat features, and they should certainly make sure that kids can't make any real purchases. Carefully monitor kids so they don’t wander off somewhere they're not supposed to be.

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Whyville is a virtual world where kids play games, hang out, and interact with each other. Kids provide their birth month and year, and a parent's email address, and then create an avatar, username, and password to begin. There's a lot to explore in Whyville: Most games are science-related, though some have art or career education themes. Some games require multiple players, whereas others can be played solo. Kids earn "clams," Whyville's currency, to buy more features for their avatars, build houses, buy cars, and more. Kids can also purchase clams, or pearls, with real money. There's an event calendar, a Whyville government, and much, much more. 

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Overall, Whyville is a fun place to be, where kids can immerse themselves in an intricate and complicated fantasy world. There's a lot to do here but there's little guidance, which makes it potentially overwhelming, confusing, and quite easy to get lost. There are interesting opportunities to interact in virtual government, manage bank accounts, care for pets, and many more opportunities to practice responsible citizenship. 

There are three main aspects to consider about the Whyville experience: games, social features, and citizenship –- all of which are a mixed bag. Many games are designed by respected organizations and uniquely explore science topics. However, many games are also complicated and poorly explained, so kids may get frustrated. There are some good guidelines to keep social interactions and chats safe and welcoming, but user feedback indicates that these measures don't always work. There are interesting opportunities to interact in virtual government, manage bank accounts, and care for pets, and many more opportunities to practice responsible citizenship. Unfortunately, there's a lot of advertising through corporate sponsorships, and a major emphasis on earning (or buying) clams and buying pearls to purchase as much as possible, which contributes to a highly commercialized and materialistic environment. 

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Overall Rating

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

There's no shortage of things to do in Whyville, from playing games and meeting up with virtual friends to going shopping. The site design can be overwhelming, though, making navigation difficult. Graphics also feel a bit outdated.

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

Kids learn as active participants in this virtual world. Manage bank accounts, meet up for game competitions, and contribute to the ever-evolving world by joining the site's government. Most games touch on science themes. 

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

Kids track their activities with scores and clams, the Whyville currency. The virtual environment is welcoming and may appeal to a wide audience, but there is little guidance for navigation. Many games can be confusing. 


Teacher Reviews

(See all 1 reviews) (1 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Adrienne D. , Early childhood provider
Early childhood provider
Great Tool for Older Students, Not for Preschoolers

My overall opinion about this product as a teaching tool is that it took time for me to understand it. I was very lost at first as to how to work it and how to use it effectively. I wish it came with a real tutorial that was better helpful then the current one offered. However, once I did get acquainted with it I was able to work it very easily and found quite a bit of wonderful resources. One thing I like is it offers a safety lesson. As a teacher I had to verify myself and then once I was verified I was allowed on the site. So if you are interested give it about 3 to 8 days before you are allowed on. You then can register your students but I do not think it is appropriate for students under the age of 6 years old.

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