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Apps That Challenge Kids to Solve Environmental Issues

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By Tanner Higgin, Graphite

Environmental education for most adults used to mean learning a little bit about recycling and planting some trees on Arbor Day. We didn't delve into ecology as much as we skimmed the surface. But things have gotten more complex since then, and the topic of climate change has brought environmental education to the forefront.

At its best, environmental education gets students grappling with big, cross-disciplinary issues like sustainable design and renewable energy. Students think critically about environmental and ecological systems; they diagnose problems, and speculate about (or maybe even create) solutions. And to that end, here are a few games to help students dive in.

little_green_island_screen_21.  Ansel and Clair: Little Green Island

This app provides an overview of environmental issues, particularly pollution, for younger students. It doesn't dig into systems thinking as much as the other games on this list, but it still does a good job of introducing ideas. Students not only learn about these issues, but must find solutions, helping them see how it's up to us to cultivate a healthy environment.


enercitiesgamess42. Enercities

Enercities is a little more sophisticated than Little Green Island. It's also free and available online, giving teachers a plug-and-play option for classrooms. While it looks familiar to players of other SimCity-style games, the twist is that Enercities emphasizes the importance of sustainable planning as the key to success. Students must strike a balance among economy, ecology, population growth, and quality of life while learning about resource scarcity and green city planning.



stopdisasters3. Stop Disasters!

It's important to learn not just about sustainability and being environmentally conscious, but also about what's at stake in these efforts. Stop Disasters! will open students' eyes, showing them the kinds of natural disasters linked to environmental issues. And while the game provides a sobering look at environmental tragedy, it also carries a strong message about preparedness and details relief efforts.


simcit_2013_screenshot_24. SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge!

Environmental education and sustainability have always been a part of theSimCity franchise – the flagship series of the simulation genre – but with SimCityEDU, Electronic Arts and developer GlassLab have made the environmental impact of cities, and how to mitigate this impact through sustainable planning, the major focus. Better yet, they've transformed a fully featured and highly engaging consumer game into a classroom-ready tool, building in lessons and teacher resources that remove a lot of the challenge of integrating games into instruction. Student learning is clearly scaffolded, and teachers can track student progress.

Tanner Higgin is Senior Manager, Education Content, at Common Sense Media, creator of Graphite ™, a free service for educators in search of the best apps, games, and websites rated for learning. This post is one in a series collaboration. Games included here have received high ratings on Graphite by educators and by the editorial staff at Common Sense Media. Go to Graphite to read full reviews of games and how teachers use them for learning in class.

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