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Science & Math

Today's computer games are much more advanced than Math Blaster, the arcade-style game that made practicing math skills on the screen more fun than flash cards. A variety of games challenge students to use their logical skills in math, physics, chemistry, biology, and other sciences.

Bioscopia (biology, logic) - This Myst-like adventure and logic game takes place within an abandoned biological research station. Players must rescue a young researcher by figuring out puzzles and working their way through the facility. The puzzles in the game are integrated with lessons on biology including: human biology, cell biology, genetics, botany, and zoology.

CellCraft (cellular biology) - Build a cell, fight off viruses, survive harsh worlds, and save the Platypus species in this game that turns cellular biology into a real-time strategy game. CellCraft was made possible by a grant from the Digital Media & Learning Competition. The goal was to make a truly educational game that was also genuinely fun to play. Download the game for free at www.cellcraftgame.com.

Chemicus (chemistry) - In this game, students have to work through a number of science related problems to help rescue a friend who has been kidnapped. Puzzles are based on chemistry, requiring students to learn and apply lessons about atomic structures, chemical bonding, electrochemistry, organic chemistry and more. The puzzles prompt kids to use the Periodic Table of Elements, work with formulas, calculate reaction equations, and conduct experiments.

Citizen Science (freshwater science, ecology) - Funded by the National Science Foundation, Citizen Science is an adventure puzzle game that teaches scientific literacy. In this game, players are taken back through time to help stop the pollution of a local lake. They are challenged to not only learn about the overlapping and many causes of freshwater lake pollution, but also the social factors and different constituents that play a role in the cause of certain pollutants. Players conduct research and gather evidence by exploring the environment, asking questions, and gathering data with various scientific tools. The game can be played online for free at http://www.filamentgames.com/projects/citizen-science.

Crayon Physics (physics, creativity) - This brain-expanding puzzle game forces players to combine logic and creativity. On each level, the player must move a ball to a certain spot in order to win. This is done by drawing new objects into the scene (the graphics all look like crayon on paper). You can sketch ramps, stairs, slides - whatever you think will do the trick. The game is completely open in terms of what the player can create and there are no specific solutions to any of the puzzles. Whatever you draw, as long as it somehow moves the ball to the goal, you win. This two-dimensional physics simulation features a heavy emphasis on gravity, mass, kinetic energy, and transfer of momentum.

Garry’s Mod (physics, creativity) - A nonlinear sandbox physics playground that allows players to design, build, and experiment by manipulating "props" – various objects that can be placed in-game. Garry’s Mod takes advantage of the Source engine's modified version of the Havok Physics Engine, which allows players to build virtual contraptions that follow real laws of physics. You spawn objects and weld them together to create your own contraptions - whether it's a car, a rocket, a catapult, or a completely new invention. There is no game objective; the props and tools can be used for any purpose. Some players have performed virtual physics-based experiments such as tying together bundles of explosives to see how high they can blast objects into the sky. Multiple players can also build contraptions together.

Immune Attack (cell biology, immunology) – This computer game was created by the Federation of American Scientists to teach high school students the basics of cell biology and how the immune system works. The game involves navigating a nanobot through a 3D environment of blood vessels and connective tissue in attempt to retrain a patient's immune system to fight bacterial and viral infections. Along the way, you will learn about the biological processes that enable macrophages and neutrophils – white blood cells – to detect and fight infections. Each subsequent level features a different infection, and a different cell type the player must train. The game is freely available to download at http://www.fas.org/immuneattack.

JASON Science (geology, ecology, meteorology, energy, forces and motion) - The JASON Project has always embraced technology to promote education through exploration, and they recognize that games are a powerful way to do this. JASON's exciting computer games place students in real-life situations in which they use actual scientific data to learn complex ideas and relationships. JASON online games and digital labs are available for free in the JASON Mission Center, along with accompanying curriculum units. In JASON’s Operation: Resilient Planet game, students get to use an ROV to visit the Gulf of Mexico and the ocean surrounding the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where they can see some of the most unique underwater ecosystems on the planet. The game focuses on four endangered species and the importance of biodiversity. In Landform Detectives, the JASON Project’s geology game, students travel around the globe to unlock the secrets of Earth’s strangest and most inspiring landforms. In JASON’s Master Mines game, students visit mining sites worldwide to gather mineral specimens, and then bring them back to the lab for analysis. You can perform tests to determine hardness, cleavage, density, color, and more. Once you've tested the minerals, you'll be able to identify them! JASON’s other award-winning games include: Coaster Creator, Storm Tracker, and Nautilus Commander.

Logical Journey of the Zoombinis (advanced math concepts, algebraic thinking, data analysis) - This fun but challenging logic game was originally designed by TERC, a not-for-profit education research and development organization based in Cambridge, Mass. The creators' promise that this game will "encourage kids to develop a lifetime habit of associating fun with learning" is right on. The game is well-liked by parents, educators, and children alike for its interesting characters and clever humor even while it requires you to actually use your brain. Twelve puzzles are solved using concepts of pattern recognition, sorting, classifying, graphing, deductive reasoning, statistical thinking, theory formulation, and testing hypotheses. There are short-term and long-term goals to work towards, from getting as many Zoombinis as possible through one puzzle to getting all 625 Zoombinis to Zoombiniville. The game becomes progressively more challenging as you go along, with four levels of difficulty from "not so easy" to "very very hard." Logical Journey supports the math standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. A detailed Parent’s Guide explains the innovative educational approach behind each puzzle. Recommended for ages 8-12. This highly acclaimed game was followed years later with two sequels, "Zoombinis Mountain Rescue" and "Zoombinis Island Odyssey," but they are nowhere near the quality of the first.

Nancy Drew: Trail of the Twister (meteorology, storm tracking science) - This single player point-and-click adventure game immerses students into meteorology by studying clouds, gathering Doppler data, storm chasing, and surviving tornadoes. It requires the player to solve the mystery behind a string of accidents surrounding a $100 million competition involving tornado storm tracking. Is it just bad luck that's plaguing the storm chasers or is someone sabotaging their chances of winning? The game features classic investigative gameplay, multiple non-player characters, a wealth of in-game items to interact with, meteorological tools and theory, and puzzle-solving gameplay with adjustable difficulty levels. Like other games in the popular Nancy Drew series, "Nancy Drew: Trail of the Twister" is a single player mystery adventure game with additional puzzle-solving elements and the ability to read case files, save clues and items found, etc. Players assume the role of teenage sleuth Nancy Drew, going under cover as a tornado researcher/storm chaser, utilizing the familiar point-and-click game mechanic to explore game areas and interact with non-player characters and in-game items. In order to solve this mystery you will also need to immerse yourself in the science of storm tracking. Players will become familiar with storm chasing equipment such as weather balloons, doppler radar, wind speed measuring devices, computers, cameras and more. Pay attention to all of this because eventually you will be tested on it in a number of ways, not the least of which being sleuthing in game areas rife with tornado activity.

Physicus (physical science) - Save the world with science! Physicus is a first-person role-playing game in the style of Myst, designed for players aged 10 and older. A collision with a meteorite has stopped Earth from rotating on its axis. Now half of the earth is freezing solid, while scorching heat is making life unbearable on the other half. If the planet is to survive, you must generate enough electricity to power a giant impulse machine, the only device that can get the planet rotating again. The only problem is with the impulse machine's electrical generators – not only are they scattered throughout the world, none of them is working correctly. The player will have to proceed through a number of exciting locations and scenarios to find the tools and parts needed to repair and activate the electrical generators. Doors must be opened and secret combinations must be found, machinery must be operated and switches must be activated, and pulleys and lifts must be jolted into action. All of these actions are based on solid scientific principles, which can be understood by assessing the vast database of scientific knowledge - complete with diagrams and animated illustrations - stored within a virtual laptop computer. Alyx Dellamonica writes in an Amazon.com Review, “Engaging enough to hold the attention of adults as well as younger players, it makes an excellent shared project for a parent-and-child team.”

Portal (physics, logical thinking, spatial relationships) - This innovative first-person puzzle action adventure game is a shooter without bullets, a puzzle without pieces, and a real mind-bender. The game develops students’ ability to think spatially because players must solve physical puzzles and challenges by opening portals to maneuver objects, and themselves, through space. To move from challenge to challenge, students will need to have a basic understanding of physics including concepts such as momentum and velocity, and the ability to think in terms of three-dimensional space.

PowerUp (ecology, engineering) - A free, online, multiplayer strategy game that allows students to experience the excitement and the diversity of modern engineering. Players are tasked with exploring the environment and harnessing renewable energy sources as alternatives to burning expendable fossil fuels. Conversations with expert engineer characters and engaging interactive activities, accompanied by textbook-like dialogue about energy efficiency, allow players to learn how engineers design and build systems. The game is marketed as an educational product and encourages teachers and schools to allow students to play it in class (a downloadable teacher’s guide and lessons plans are included), but kids can also play the game at home. Download and play the game for free at www.powerupthegame.org.

Return of the Incredible Machine Contraptions (applied physics) - This game lets young engineers build elaborate machines to complete a variety of unusual and often humorous tasks. Each puzzle contains a partially built machine along with the extra pieces needed to complete it. The player's job is to put the mechanical components together in the correct way. As the player becomes more familiar with the various machine parts and their functions, the puzzles become more sophisticated. Accurate physics models create realistic interactions between parts. So the game is a great learning tool because it challenges students not only to use their problem solving skills but to showcase their knowledge of physics principles – i.e., kinetic and potential energy, energy transfer, motion and forces, etc. In addition, the game allows for creative experimentation. For example, the player can change the gravity and air pressure for each contraption to simulate different worlds or outer space.

Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 (physics simulations, technical design) - Manage a theme park, design roller coasters built to your specifications, and then ride them! A day at the amusement park hardly sounds educational, but students can learn valuable lessons about G-force, kinetic and potential energy when building their own roller coasters in this game. The roller coasters must meet certain physics requirements in order to make it around the next loop or to avoid flying off of the track, and students will be forced to use their understanding of how these principles work to build fun and functional rides.

Space Station Sim (space science) - Developed in collaboration with NASA, this game puts players in charge of building and operating an International Space Station. This is a true 3-D construction sim that encourages players to engage their imagination and choose from thousands of different configurations of the ISS using dozens of modules and stylized components from NASA and its four exploration partners: the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), European Space Agency (ESA), Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the Russian Space Agency (RSA). But it's more than just a space station model – you can also create and manage your own crew members to live and work aboard! The astronauts each have their own unique abilities and personalities. The player manages their life support, food, supplies, altitude, activities, and more. The astronauts will face mission critical situations, including fires and equipment breakdowns, while conducting micro gravity experiments and dealing with space tourists. Kevin Cook of The Space Foundation stated, "SpaceStationSim really engages the player, integrating the science and psychology of life in space." For more information and a free demo, visit www.spacestationsim.com.

Spongelab (anatomy, biology, chemistry, physics, space science) - Founded in 2007, Spongelab Interactive is a Toronto-based educational gaming design and production company that aims to inspire a new generation of learners to be passionate about the natural and scientific world. Recognizing the instructional potential of computer games, the Spongelab Interactive team combines educational design with advanced web and gaming technology to create interesting and intuitive online programs that challenge students through discovery-based learning. Spongelab Interactive has produced a series of biology games based on curriculum for Grades 7 through 12, as well as for university level biology students. For example, Biochem Gems is a deceptively simple looking puzzle game where players are tasked with assembling basic biochemical structures from their constituent pieces. There are 4 main stages to the game (carbohydrates, fatty acids, nucleic acids and amino acids), each containing 3 - 5 levels. In Build-a-Frog, Build-a-Worm, and Build-a-Fish, players can explore the anatomy of these organisms. The Build-a-Body simulation lets you learn about the body's systems with a drag and drop game. History of Biology is one of the major educational game projects produced by Spongelab Interactive. In History of Biology, Spongelab uses the power of human drama to arouse the natural curiosity of students and teach them about historical moments in the advancement of biology. Spongelab's next big game, Dragon Breeding, is coming soon. Learn the principles of Mendelian Genetics as you breed species, beat missions, and become the dragon master! New subject matter has also been added to include chemistry, physics and space science. Most content on the site is free; users can collect experience points and credits to redeem for premium content.

WolfQuest (wildlife biology) - An immersive wildlife simulation game, WolfQuest challenges players to learn about wolf ecology by living the life of a wild wolf. Based on real topographic maps of Yellowstone Park and realistic 3D graphics, players join a wolf pack made up of friends in the multiplayer version or seek to perfect their hunting skills and build their own pack in the single player version. Players must balance individual and pack needs to increase their collective ability to hunt, defend territory, avoid danger, and protect their young. The WolfQuest website includes a page of classroom activities as well as an active community of wolf enthusiasts who post tips and strategies, chat with wolf experts, share personal wolf artwork and stories, and test their wolf knowledge. The game is free to download at http://www.wolfquest.org.

World of Goo (physics) - This fantastic physics puzzle game has a huge variety of puzzles, physics simulations, and goo. The object of the game is to get your goo structures to reach from point A to point B. The game isn't simply about building things but also specifically figuring out what to build in order to achieve a particular goal. Surprisingly effective physics are used in this game, and you really have to think about the construction of the objects you create because they will bend, stress, break, and bounce. It’s a great strategy/engineering game that forces you to think outside the box but inside the rules of physics to solve problems.

X-Plane (flight simulation, real-time flight physics) – The most comprehensive, powerful, and realistic flight simulation software available for home users, X-Plane is an engineering tool that can be used to predict the flight characteristics of nearly any aircraft with incredible accuracy. Whether you’re an aviation enthusiast, a gamer looking to graduate to some serious realism, an aspiring pilot, or even a seasoned pilot with your own airplane plans on the drawing board, X-Plane for your personal computer has everything you’ll need.

Honors Project © 2011 by Peter Olsen, Mesa Community College, CIS107 Electronic Game Industry.