Virtual Learning: 25 Best Sims and Games For the Classroom

Posted on 06.03.2008

Video and computer games aren't always associated with their educational value, but as virtual media grows and develops, educators are finding that games are a great way to get children engaged in learning while still allowing them to have fun in their classes. Not every game is well suited for the classroom, but there are loads out there that have something of value to teach, guide and grow the interest of kids both inside and outside of school. If you're looking for something educational for your own kids to play or for a game your students can enjoy that applies to their lessons, here are some to consider.

History

Make the past come alive with these fun and informative games.

  1. Civilization III: Civilization III puts students in charge of planning, managing and competing with other civilizations. Students will learn all about different systems of government (everything from anarchy to communism), geography of the world and loads about the history of civilizations and leaders from Genghis Khan to Queen Isabella of Spain. The game challenges students to use their problem solving skills to build successful civilizations and learn what causes civilizations to rise or fall.
  2. Revolution: This game was created by MIT for its Education Arcade. It allows students to take on a role of a citizen during the tumultuous times that preceded the American Revolutionary War. Students will learn about the conflict from an "everyday person" perspective, and they will learn all about the day-to-day economic, social and political ramifications of the war.
  3. Age of Empires III: This game allows students to learn about the rise and fall of empires all over the world. This third installment covers the medieval to mid-1800's in countries in Europe and North America. The game has potential for add-ons that cover Native American and Asian civilizations so students can get a broader understanding of world civilizations in the modern era. Students will be challenged to strategize military, resources development, and expansion of societies all over the world.
  4. Oregon Trail: Students will take their wagon trains along the Oregon Trail on this updated version of the classic computer game. The game teaches them about the hardships faced by early western settlers as well as gaining an understanding of geography and human impact on the environment.
  5. Pirate Raider: Pirate Raider takes students to the open seas on a pirate ship where they'll have to battle everything from sea monsters to whirlpools while building a ship and acquiring treasure. This game can be a great way to teach students about the history of pirating while making it more fun and imaginative. Students will learn about different types of ships, geography and more through the game which they can apply to other historical studies.
  6. Where In Time is Carmen Sandiego?: Students will get to follow Carmen Sandiego through time with this fun, classic educational game. The game provides them with cases they must solve, traveling to different places and times to stop Carmen Sandiego from stealing relics from the past. Students will learn historical facts about everything from Ancient Egypt to Ben Franklin presented in a format that rewards them for their knowledge.
  7. Pharaoh: Get firsthand experience of the societies of ancient Egypt with this strategy game. Students will build up Egyptian civilizations from small communities to large-scale cities complete with pyramids and obelisks. The game provides accurate information about conflicts, leaders and Egyptian mythology and vocabulary and can be a great addition to lessons on Egyptian history.
  8. Making History: This turn-based strategy game takes students through the turbulent years before and during WWII. Students will be responsible for creating alliances, building weapons, commanding troops and managing international policies. The game is focused on WWII but can be modified to cover Ancient Rome or the Cold War through a powerful editing tool. Students will learn the impact of political decisions and understand the ramifications of diplomacy, aggression and international relations.
  9. Nancy Drew: Message In a Haunted Mansion: Challenge students to use their problem solving skills to figure out a mystery in a Victorian mansion with this game. Students will learn about Victorian architecture and society while trying to figure out the mysterious happenings within the mansion.

Science and Logic

Challenge students to use their logical skills in chemistry, physics and biology to play these games.

  1. Return of the Incredible Machine Contraptions: This game requires players to build elaborate machines that complete various tasks that can be anything from setting off fireworks to catching a cat in a basket. The game is a great learning tool for students because it challenges them not only to bring out their problem solving skills but to showcase their knowledge of physics, through understanding kinetic and potential energy, energy transfer, motion and forces, and much more. It's a fun way to show the application of physics principles while teaching students about technical design.
  2. Bioscopia: This adventure and logic game will take students through an empty biological research facility where they must perform a rescue by figuring out puzzles and working their way through the world. The puzzles in the game are integrated with lessons on biology that cover everything from cell biology to the behavior of complex organisms. It can be a great way to make topics that are sometimes confusing or dull for students more interesting and hands on.
  3. Chemicus: Students will work through a number of science related problems in this game to help rescue a friend who has been kidnapped. Puzzles are based on chemistry, requiring students to learn and apply lessons about atomic structures, chemical bonding and organic chemistry. Students win motivation from the game to solve the puzzles as mysteries are slowly solved by them.
  4. Zoombinis Logical Journey: Children will get a chance to interact with the imaginary people the Zoombinis in this fun-filled logic game. The game challenges students to solve puzzles related to the Zoombinis that require them to use math, logic, reasoning and testing of hypotheses. Children will be able to build skills in these areas while feeling that learning can actually be fun.
  5. Spore: While not slated for release until late 2008, this highly anticipated game has the potential to be an incredibly powerful tool in the classroom for teaching students about evolution and the behavior of organisms. The game allows students to create a creature which they can help evolve from a multi-cell organism to an interstellar exploring species.
  6. Roller Coaster Tycoon 3: A day at the amusement park hardly sounds educational, but students can learn valuable lessons when building their own roller coasters in this game. The coasters must meet certain physics requirements in order to make it around the next loop or to avoid flying off of the track, and students will be forced to use their understanding of how these principles work to build fun and functional rides. Students can apply lessons about G force, kinetic and potential energy to their game play.

Mythology

Students can learn loads about mythology and history with these games.

  1. Age of Mythology: This game provides students with a fun and interactive way to learn about the mythology of ancient Greece. Game play challenges students to appease gods, battle mythical creatures and build a lasting and successful civilization while doing so. Students will learn by directly interacting with gods and creatures, and the game does give some background on certain mythological elements.
  2. Dark Age of Camelot: Make learning about King Arthur and the Round Table a fun and interactive experience with this game. Students will get a chance to see how mythology fits into the history of the British Isles, learn how legends evolve and grow over time, and get a sense of the warfare that took place during turbulent times in England. Due to the battle scenes in this game, it is only appropriate for older students.

Fitness

Get students up and moving with this popular game.

  1. Dance Dance Revolution: Many physical education classes are helping students get fit the fun way by using this video game as part of their curriculum. Students will compete with each other to complete complex dance moves, getting up and moving, burning calories and having fun being active. The game helps students learn that fitness can be fun and build their coordination skills.

Business and Law

These games can help students learn to manage finances and work within the legal system.

  1. Railroad Tycoon II: This simulation can help students learn about the history of the railroads around the world, but it also teaches them the basics of managing a business. Students will get the chance to build tracks, manage their resources and even buy and sell companies within a virtual stock market while they build rail empires in America, Europe and Africa.
  2. Trade Empires: Students will learn what it takes to build and maintain a vibrant merchant trading business in this simulation. As the game progresses, new products, markets and routes are discovered, teaching students not only about the economic aspects of trade but the historical aspects as well.
  3. Law & Order: Based on the popular TV series, these Law & Order games can help students learn to navigate the ins and outs of the legal system while solving crimes. The game will require students to search for clues, build a case and ultimately take their argument to court, helping them learn each step in the legal process in the United States.

Community and Personal Skills

Students get the help they need to understand communities, interpersonal relationships and to interact with other students in these games.

  1. Sim City 4: The latest incarnation of this classic sim game requires players to manage the finances, growth, resources and location of a city. Students will get the chance to build cities in all kinds of environments, compete or collaborate with neighboring cities and follow the lives of individual citizens. This will give them a better understanding of how cities and communities are managed and allow them to see the effects of cities on the environment and on their citizens.
  2. Sims 2: Students will be able to create their own miniature neighborhoods and take on the identity of an individual of their own design. The Sims helps students to learn about the relationship between education, success in careers, and the development of interpersonal relationships. The game presents students with simple cause and effect relationships of their decisions, and they can see how they play out in real time.
  3. Whyville: Whyville is a virtual universe that allows students to interact with one another and to learn about topics that range from business to geography. Students play games with other children in order to learn and develop their skills within the online environment. Their characters within the world will earn a salary, and students will get to be able to start their own businesses, buy and build loads of new things.
  4. Quest Atlantis: This online interactive community game teaches students about social responsibility, creativity, diversity, conservation and more. Students complete small quests to help the Atlanteans to save their failing civilization. The games teach students to work collaboratively, complete complex tasks and learn how actions affect civilizations and the environment.