By Teachers, For Teachers
The most popular website at my school, hands down, is Minecraft. Even 1st graders love it (I'm amazed parents let six-year-olds use this sometimes violent game, but they do). Because kids would opt to live in this blocky virtual world 24/7, I only let them play it two lunch periods a week. Those days, my lab is always packed. Kids have no idea they're learning math (estimation, geometry, shapes), science (geology, rocks, minerals), building, or softer skills like thinking and reasoning, problem solving, hypothesis-testing, risk-taking, and collaboration. They don't realize they're exercising that delicate skill called 'creativity' or care that Common Sense Media raves that "Minecraft empowers players to exercise their imagination and take pride in their digital creations as they learn basic building concepts."
As I watched students play (and play and play and play), I started to understand what it was that enraptured them so thoroughly: It's the thinking. They make decisions that result in consequences and ultimately require more thinking. Players can't go on auto-pilot. They must engage their brain.
OK, I get it. No way will I reinvent the education wheel when I've stumbled onto the golden goose: Simulations -- not those shallow ones that walk players through the 'right' answers, but the deep, multi-layered type that are hard to find in the virtual world. I've had one (called SimTower) on my lab computers for ten years. Third graders discover it and play it as often as I let them -- which used to be every lunch hour until Minecraft replaced it -- right through the fifth grade, when the shine wore thin and they needed something new. It's listed below, but you can't buy it. It's only available as 'abandoned software' from the link.
Here are a few more software programs you can use to tantalize your students:
For shorter sessions, try these:
Best news: These are all free.