Growing up, I always loved to play city building simulators. The idea of working to constantly expand and explore appealed to me; enabling me to spend countless hours conquering the world in Civilization, or another planet with Alpha Centauri. Sid Meir became a name I knew all too well, and soon I had expanded my gaming repertoire to include the Total War series, SimCity, Caesar, Black & White and more. Something about the persistent nature of the games attracted me, the idea that the time investment I spent would somehow yield an appropriate and lasting reward kept me coming back. Little did I know then, but not only was I interested, but I was learning. I was learning about the relationship between systems, I was reinforcing my understanding of cause and effect. With the click of a button I was able to introduce time dilation, speeding up the events in-game relative to the time elapsed in the real world – so, what might only be five minutes for me, would instead be months or years in the game. A simple action on my behalf might result in the crumbling of an entire empire, the brutal destruction of a campaign, or the rise of a metropolis.
My love for games hasn’t faded with age, rather, my appreciation for the art of game design has only grown. As an educator, I see games as an opportunity to impart these same lessons to my students – to help them understand that every action has a consequence, and often the consequences are far greater, far more intricate than we imagine.
Forgive me for my lengthy trip down memory lane, as we return to the topic of this post, which happens to be my favorite project: Creating a Metropolis in SimCity.
Three years ago, when I first began working at Oberoi International School, the technological landscape was tremendously different. We still had fixed computer classes in the schedule, a lab with rows of desktops, and little interest in games-based learning or gamification. I was working to integrate technology into the curriculum for grades 1 to 3 when I stumbled upon an idea during a planning meeting with the third-grade teachers. They were trying to develop a summative assessment for their unit on systems, under the transdisciplinary theme of ‘how we organize ourselves, the central idea being the following: a community has systems to support the people.
Immediately I recognized the opportunity to create a gamified assessment that would enrich their understanding of causation, provide an authentic chance to demonstrate their understanding and most importantly: it would be the most engaging assessment they had ever done.
Unfortunately, there were several factors acting against my idea:
- Some teachers were uncomfortable with the unorthodox nature of this summative
- The game (SimCity 2013) would require a significant investment of time in order to learn how to play
- It has an ESRB rating of 10+ while the average student in grade 3 is 8 or 9 years old
- 3rd-grade students were not given access to MacBooks – which was required to run the game
These were just a few of the obstacles that I had to manage if I wanted to move forward with my idea. I began to realize that with some luck I could turn some of the obstacles into advantages.
Instead of trying to get the students to play the actual game on devices, which they normally wouldn’t have access to, playing a game that could be considered ‘inappropriate’; I would instead dissect the computer game, and pick out the pieces I wanted the most. I would create a board game hybrid that used some of the same elements but could be played offline, and would focus on 21st-century skills and urban planning. I decided that the gameplay components that I couldn’t do without would be the following:
- Buildings and their effects
- Road management
- Zoning (Industrial, Residential, Commercial)
- Starting budget
- A ‘Grid’ (for placing buildings / roads)
I began by creating a physical representation of the in-game land for city-building. This grid would be the same or each group and they would have to build their city on it. Paying attention to the terrain where there are no grids, meaning it cannot be built upon.
Next, I would create the various building icons that would be used to represent the structures. I decided to turn to the laser cutter again to create pieces that could be reused.
I then created several documents for the students to use as resources for their city planning.
- I created a video presentation on the city of Brasilia where I had spent seven years of my childhood; it’s also a city that serves as a wonderful example of purposeful urban planning. You can look at the video here.
- I made a Keynote companion presentation that was meant to be used throughout the summative assessment. It could be referred to in case the students were confused about the buildings, zoning, prices, etc… Think of it as the offline equivalent of a HUD.
Explore the PDF here.
- I also created a time-lapse video of myself working on my own city, using the same resources that would be made available for the students. This served to generate excitement and clarify any remaining confusions about the way the session would progress.
<End of Part 1>
I will be writing a second blog post to cover the rest of the summative assessment; it will discuss how the classes progressed, what were the final products, how we spent time reflecting afterwards and how we integrated it with the actual game.