Eco for Elementary-Age Students
I teach with K-5th graders. There is so much interest in Minecraft among these young students. And our 3rd grade has a prominent unit on interdependency and ecosystems. This game would be a huge hit with these young gamers. I worry that the economy and certain other elements of the game might be a bit overwhelming at first. But I can also see how this game could be used in different ways at different grade levels (e.g. 3rd grade focuses on interdependence of elements in an ecosystem, fourth graders focus on interpreting graphs and charts, fifth graders look at mod development), so the opportunity to buy a license and gift it to the child is enticing.
I am hopeful that I, as the teacher, can mod the game into a more simple form. Perhaps remove entire elements from the game (e.g. economy) to make it more digestible and streamlined. I am curious if there are other educators out there who are thinking along the same lines I am. I am curious if the developers have given much thought to making the game playable for younger kids. I would love to connect with a couple other people in the Eco community to share ideas and problems as we think about bringing this game to elementary education.
I work with K-8th graders during the summer months on subjects ranging from web development and video game creation to mathematics. I'm hoping to try and develop a curriculum for Eco over the next few months as development continues and more features are added/improved within the game.
To address your concern over the current state of the game (excluding the bugs and clunkiness of controls) and its economy specifically, I believe it is already geared towards younger gamers. Given the fact that students are now (in vast majority) exposed to a plethora of electronic devices and gaming content at young ages, I believe that quick tutorials would be ample enough to get them going.
Currently, I and another developer are beginning talks with an instructor from Canada who is going to be test-driving Eco in there classroom shortly. We've offered to host a server for them to experiment with how students interact in the game and to learn about different gameplay mechanics they feel are too difficult or are needed. If you'd be interested in doing something similar to this in the future as a way to try it out in an academic setting without risking interactions with others outside of your classroom on public servers, we would be happy to try and set something up.
What a fantastic offer! We haven't purchased the classroom license yet. I am testing the game now to see whether we want to make the purchase or not. I believe that you are correct about younger students being able to digest the complexities of the game. I know that they crave complexity in gaming. However, it would be good to be able to disable certain features and make a leaner version of the game. This works well while they are learning the game. It also works well for teachers who may not be proficient gamers and would benefit from a leaner game, or who would really like the students to focus on one or two key elements, as they relate to the classroom topics.
After I audition the game, and we make a decision about whether to purchase a school license or not, I will let you know if we can use that server you offered. Thanks again! I look forward to hearing more about your experiences using this game with young students.
Great to see you're interested in bringing the game to younger audiences, I think there's plenty we could do to make it work at younger ages, especially considering the fluency this generation has with games like Eco.
I would love to get a repository of curriculum and mods that teachers can use to customize Eco to fit their classroom, and the goal is that by our official 'release' in 2017 we will have a really simple way for teachers to set this up for their class and customize it to their liking, removing all the rough edges for both students and teachers. So you definitely have our full support in any mods and curriculum you want to start prototyping, and we can help with that development as well. Let us know your thoughts as you work on ways this game could be used in education.
@JohnK great to hear from you. I have been following the development of this game and watching your videos. I appreciate your input in this discussion.
John, can you speak to the notion of modding as a "subtractive process"? I have a notion of mods as an additive. Is it comparable to use a mod to remove or pare down a game?
Not currently, but I like the idea and it could be something we add. It could either be done through server properties, or special mods that 'block' other mods.
It already exists for some features, ie you can turn off the meteor via server properties, or change/disable the ecosystem, etc. Pretty easy to put switches on things to turn them off, and I want to make it easy to do via a web interface. Perhaps we can have predefined packages of the game for different ages.
Curious to hear more @hypnagogic about how you think the game could change for younger students, and @dannypent what kind of curriculum you're thinking of building. We're hoping to have an official package of curriculum to go with the game by launch in 2017, perhaps this is something you'd like to work with us on?
Thanks for your considered response, @JohnK
We have a third grade unit on interdependency and ecosystems. How animals thrive and adapt in particular environments and the food chain. They also learn the different biomes.
I think students could work in small groups to manage their world, the resources and the wildlife. They could experience in a first-hand way, how overuse results in a spoiled ecosystem. By devising the rules that they need to make their world thrive, they confront the necessary steps to protect an ecosystem. This could lead to very thoughtful conversations about our world and how we can do a better job of managing our resources.
I would love to see a robust variety of biomes. Being able to add biomes (via mods) would be awesome. Currently our students design animals to suit a particular biome (using arts and craft supplies). We toyed with the idea of letting them design a biome, but abandoned it as too intellectual for them to really engage. However, in the realm of this simulated world, designing a biome could be a fun challenge. Given these organisms, can you devise an ideal biome for them to thrive.
The underlying architecture of Eco could also be used to create simulations without human involvement. You design a biome. You design the organisms. You push go and watch how the ecosystem thrives or fails. Edit the settings and let it go again. Did it survive longer this time?
I have mocked up similar computer simulations and let the kids play with birth rates and life expectancies of animals in their eco system. They can see why apex predators need to have low birth rates, and feeder animals (herbivores) need to have high birth rate. If one species in your eco system goes extinct, then the eco system has collapsed and you need to start over again. Seeing how long (time) the ecosystem survives becomes an indicator of how well-balanced it is.
These are some thoughts from the top of my head, but I am pleased to be conversing with you, John, about this and I'm looking forward to more in-depth conversations to come.
Sounds great, I think those could all be great mods for Eco that potentially become something more official. We're hoping to make Eco a platform open enough that it can support all kinds of mods like that, and grow into some very different systems. Will have to keep in touch as we start fleshing out these systems more and getting to the point where we can have that capability. Great curriculum ideas there.