Using SimCity and Commercials as Classroom Formative Assessment Tools

Using SimCity and Commercials as Classroom Formative Assessment ToolsReading Benjamin Herold’s blog over at Education Week – Popular SimCity Video Game, Now a Classroom Assessment – was a walk down memory lane for me. When I was teaching woodshop (back in the late 1990s), I used SimCity as an assessment long before it was designed to serve that purpose. While this new version sounds very exciting, fun and educational, so was the old one. It feels like we sometimes miss out on solid formative assessment tools just because they may not be framed that way.

If you haven’t played or seen SimCity, it provides a ‘sandbox’ for the player to problem solve and explore critical thinking via simulations. In the old version, one created cities and had to figure out where to put housing, commercial, emergency services and the like. Population increased and decreased. Disasters occurred. Once students realized it wasn’t about making disasters occur and cities fail, but more about how different aspects of the system interacted with each other, longevity and prosperity, the dynamics of using the game changed.

With this new version, SimCityEDU, teachers have even more clear-cut ways to gather data regarding student learning:

+ Teaching and assessing the new science standards (identifying the learning targets)

+ Collecting over 3,000 different data points, to include information about student thinking (activating students as learners)

+ Using systems thinking to understand the relationships, interactions and influences among systems

Another formative assessment tool that we might miss out on using is the commercial break during a TV show. Think about it for a minute. What question could you ask your student during a commercial break? Let’s take reading comprehension as an example. What if we used the commercial breaks to check on various aspects of comprehension, such as:

+ Prediction: Ask a question – What do you think is going to happen next? What makes you think that?

+ Background knowledge: What other show (or book/movie) have we seen that was similar to this? Or you might make a connection to something that happened in your life recently.

+ Recall: You might get up and leave the room, asking upon your return, “What just happened to…?

+ Infer: Ask about characters, locations, thoughts – Why do you think the setting is …? What do you think this character was thinking about when…?

You get the idea. We need to be on the lookout for more “tools” and opportunities to use to support formative assessment – both in and outside the classroom. It’s such a valuable teaching technique that not only improves student learning, but helps teachers better understand how their teaching affects the classroom.

Share your formative assessment tools and what works in your classroom by leaving a comment below.