I have been testing the waters of GBL in a grade 3/4 classroom this year. It has been a wonderful challenge for me as a teacher and students have been open to and enthusiastic about using games to support their learning. It has taken a longer period of time (compared to previous years with grade 5/6 students) to help students understand that we play games with a learning focus in mind. I have had to pack up the PlayStation2 and take it home once this year due to students watching the GBL activity rather than concentrating on their own activity, but in this lovely third term everything has fallen into place and my students, especially my grade 4s, have worked really well to investigate the concepts brought forward by games.
Late last term and early this term, we have been using Electrocity in Science and Literacy. Electrocity is a free online game, funded by Genesis Energy, an electricity generator and retailer in New Zealand. The game is modeled around energy use in New Zealand, but I think Australian usage is very similar, and this factor does not impact on the concepts explored within the game.
Students begin by creating a new game and naming their city. They are then presented with a map of their town and the surrounding, randomly created landscape, including mountains, hills, beaches, rivers, plains, forests and lakes. They begin with a population of 10,000 entirely happy residents and a budget of $400. The aim of the game is to create enough energy supply for their town, but it’s not all that simple.
My students, with some teacher encouragement, began clicking on things to see what would happen. They soon discovered that different areas of land can be used for different things. Budget restrictions quickly came into play, so making money became the first task for many.
Some did this by raising taxes, but they quickly realised that high taxes result in unhappy residents, a reduction in the population and sometimes angry mobs.
Students can explore the pros and cons about each power source they are able to build, and as they work through their turns (they get 150) they make connections between the power source, it’s impact on the environment, population sentiment and cost of production.
By clicking on their town, players can implement energy-saving programmes for their citizens which may help to reduce energy usage.
Things can quickly go wrong if players build things such as docks, airports and stadiums without enough energy to support them, and once you go broke it’s game over.
If players do manage to make it through their 150 turns they are given feedback on their game play and how they have impacted on the environment, population, energy management and popularity.
The game has more complex aspects to it, including buying and selling units of coal and gas on the market, improving tourism and increasing town populations, but I have used this game with the focus of the impact of power sources on the environment. My grade 3/4 students have had some fantastic conversations while playing this game, discussing clean energy, budget constraints and the idea that you can’t please every citizen all the time.
I highly recommend this game to teachers with students from grade 3 and above. The game website provides teacher resources for multiple age groups. I created a simple comparison activity for my students to complete while playing, and have found it best suited to grade 5/6 students, as they are generally more able to understand the technical language in the game.
Electrocity is fun for students and creates an awareness of the impact of creating power on the environment and the restrictions faced by government in the process. It encourages risk taking to achieve goals, which is one of the most powerful aspects of games-based learning.