The back-to-school routine of catching the right bus to and from school was anything but ordinary for students at Pine Mountain Middle School. Their task was to place just the right number of bus stops in the city to get all the students to school and back on time and within budget. Do it right and you enroll the maximum students at minimal cost; overbuild and your city goes broke. A pretty big lesson on city management for these students, who are part of only 30 classes nationwide that participated in the alpha and test pilot of a new educational software program called SimCityEDU.
The educational version of the popular SimCity game is being developed by GlassLab as educational missions that incorporate real-world situations faced by cities nationwide. The gameplay is immersive and a natural fit for tech savvy youngsters but is also very rich in problem-solving and critical thinking tasks. Students must analyze data to make the right decisions, be mindful of budget constraints and always watch the “happiness meter” of their computer population of Sims. “School’s In,” “Jobs, Jobs Jobs,” and “Clouds over Jackson City” were three such challenge missions.
Engineering and technology teacher Douglas Moody has used prior versions of SimCity to teach such problem-solving skills to his middle school students to help them understand how the engineered world around them operates. “They quickly find that creating and managing the city of their dreams means making a lot of compromises and tough decisions. They can increase jobs in their city by zoning lots of industrial areas, but what about the increase in pollution and the quality of life? Being part of the exclusive evaluation process for the SimCityEDU game is a distinction for our students.”
The SimCity software is also the basis of the National Engineers Week Future City Competition – one that the PMMS Future City Engineers Club has been part of for 5 years. The regional competition, held at Southern Polytechnic State University, brings together enthusiastic young city planners from across the state to compare notes and present their 3-D city models.
The chance to be offer feedback on the design of the new SimCityEDU software, providing gameplay data to developers along with daily reflection surveys completed by the students, seemed a natural fit for the engineering and technology class. Part of the broader Career Technology and Agricultural Education curriculum offered in middle and high schools in Cobb County, the class also has students learning CAD (computer-assisted design) with SolidWorks, a new 3-D printer, Lego EV3 robotics and the Mindstorms programming language to create and test their solutions to challenges. “You can’t wish for anything better if you are trying to teach competitive 21st century skills – a true career-ready track for our students,” notes PMMS principal Lisa Jackson.
Students just completed the alpha test pilot of the first SimCityEDU game and will be part of the beta test this fall with the “SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge!” The game will be widely available for download in November 2013.