Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Surprising Lack of Sophistication

Friday found my science classes in the good computer lab to take the pretest for our nutrition unit. With the remaining time, I had them play the My Pyramid BlastOff! game as a lead in to learning about the new food pyramid. It is one of the many resources available at the website.

The game challenges students to fuel a rocket ship by planning a day's worth of balanced nutrition and physical activity. I expected that my video game savvy fifth graders would see right through it and easily blast off to the planet. I was wrong! They were fueling the rocket with the cookies, sugary cereals and soda that they normally drink, and they were all losing the game. That made me like the game all the more.

One strength is that the initial screen gives them a few quick guidelines. It wasn't much reading, but a number of students blew right past it anyway. Next, like any good video game, it doesn't tell you everything. For example, the food pyramid that dominates the screen has a fuel gauge on each of the food groups. The directions don't mention that you have a balanced diet when all the fuel gauges are at full. After a few losses, my students started figuring that out.

When your rocket ship goes up in a cloud of smoke, you get a screen that shows which parts of your diet were balanced and which weren't. After losing the game, I noticed students actually stopping to pour over that page.

What I liked the most was that I couldn't get students to quit playing to go to lunch, and a number of them asked if I would give them credit for beating the game if they finished it at home and printed out the certificate. The one student who did successfully complete the game admitted that she had been on my SchoolNotes page earlier in the week. She'd seen the link and had played the game at home a few times. Gotta love that!

In any case, I think it was a good anticipatory set and with the carrot of getting to play the game at the end of the unit, I think their studies will seem more purposeful and be more focused. Not a bad payoff for 20 minutes at a website.