How SimCity is replacing reading, writing, and arithmetic

When I was growing up, games were demonized as the harbingers of bad grades. But games such as SimCityEDU, recently released at schools, are now seen by grownups as compelling ways to teach middle-schoolers complex systems. 

SimCityEDU is a mod of SimCity, the re-imagining of Will Wright’s world-famous city building game, the one from earlier this year that the internet freaked out about. The modification was done by Glasslab, an organization that takes videogames and transforms them into learning tools. The game differs from the SimCity you may know, as there are no rampaging Kaiju, and children are tasked with planning school bus routes, recognizing the tradeoffs between coal and green energy, and reducing the effects of pollution on the environment.

Like any standardized test, the mod emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving skills, but a sizable advantage to using games to teach children is that games offer better insight into their thought processes. Because this is a digital interface, SimCityEDU generates a substantial amount of data. Educators are able to watch the movement of the kids’ mice. They can observe how long it takes them to make decisions. They can see how a wrong solution was reached, something they can’t on multiple choice tests. And the kids seem to enjoy it a lot more than sociology class.