Games for Science! (Gameschooling Part 2)
Games for Science!
Last week, I explained why we are using games to supplement our first year of homeschooling. We had the most success adding games to our studies in science.
In elementary school, science is more about exposure and breadth than depth. Our science curriculum this year had three main units. First we covered ecology and the basics of biomes; then properties of matter (how to measure it, phases of matter, mixtures, and solutions); and finally basic chemistry, introducing the periodic table, atoms, and molecules.
We played Endangered and Mariposas during our ecology unit.
Endangered (our review) lets us learn about why various animals are endangered. We learned not just about habitats but also about animal habits – did you know that tigers are solitary and usually only pair up long enough to reproduce?
With Mariposas, we talked about migration and the butterfly life cycle. Why do monarch butterflies migrate from Mexico all the way to Canada, even though many reproduce and die on the way? What could we do to help butterflies in our area? You can find Mariposas easily on Amazon or at most game stores.
What in the Wild? (our review) would be another great option in this area. It uses a wide variety of species that are common across the northern US. Unfortunately, we gave it to some friends a while ago and I didn’t think to borrow it while we were in this unit.
Games from Genius Games were hugely helpful for chemistry. We already had ION and Periodic. I also picked up a used copy of Subatomic just before we wrapped up our chemistry section.
ION is a card-drafting game that is about building compounds out of ions; it builds recognition of ionic compounds, from common (NaCl and H2O) to ones that involve transition metals, polyatomic ions, and even radioactive atoms. You could start with this game as young as 7-8 years old, and although it’s playable with two players, it’s better with more.
Periodic has players move around on the periodic table. Try to land on specific elements to fulfill themed sets. I found it a great way to introduce the periodic table and its structure. There’s a lot going on here, so I probably wouldn’t play it with kids younger than 10 years old.
Subatomic was the most complex game we played. It’s a deck-building and area-control game about building atoms from subatomic particles (protons, neutrons, electrons, and also quarks and photons). Honestly, this was beyond the scope of what we were introducing in science, but my son loved it. Unless you’ve got a hard-core gamer kid like him, I would recommend playing this with highschoolers.
We also tried Orbital Velocity and Space Explorers this year, as they tied in loosely to our history curriculum.
Right after learning about Robert Goddard and the first liquid-fueled rocket, we received Orbital Velocity to review. It sparked a lot of learning, but the kids soon tired of playing it. I’d still recommend it if you want to raise questions about how orbits work and why satellites don’t all orbit the same distance from earth. At $20 or less from Amazon, it’s worth it even if you only play it for a week or two.
Shortly after that, we tried Space Explorers, but it was not at all what I expected. I thought it would be about exploring space or building rockets (like Orbital Velocity or Xtronaut), but instead, you’re building teams of specialists to launch missions during the 1960s space race. It sparked conversations about why the different types of specialists are needed, and the different designs for satellites, manned spaceships, and orbital stations. This is really more of a history game than a science game.
Using Board Games to Teach Science
While not quite as memorable as doing hands-on experiments or going outside to observe wildlife, all of these science games let us dive into topics we couldn’t otherwise do at home.
Many of these games would have been helpful even if they were only a foothold to start asking questions. But so many of the games really did teach, expanding on what we were already learning.
Science games were our best experience with gameschooling. It was easy to find games related to scientific concepts, especially for the 10+ age range. I’d highly recommend any of the games from this article to supplement a science curriculum.
Next week, geography and history!
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