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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this game.
Kids can learn about biology by playing the two different science-themed simulations and by reading supplemental material. In the Microworld mini-game, kids learn about a microbe's life cycle by piloting a mircrobe through a maze while eating nutrients to replenish energy. In the Ecoland sim, kids read about various organisms and apply the info they've learned to create sustainable ecosystems. (Certain plants, for example, thrive when closer to water.) Kids can eventually create their own levels and share them with other players. Lifeboat to Mars lets kids learn about biology in a fun, encouraging, and interactive environment.
The message kids will take from playing this game is that biology can be fun and intriguing.
Positive Role Models
The only character is the game is a robot who explains how you play. He is encouraging and positive. Otherwise, you are your own role model as you explore how to make each ecosystem scenario work.
Ease of Play
The directions and tutorials do a good job of teaching you how to play. You play by trying different things to see what works. At times, finding a solution can be tough, and you may need to try a scenario several times before winning it. Also, the controls on the Microbe Games can be frustrating because kids have to use the arrow keys to move your microbe.
Violence & Scariness
This ecosystem game has predators eating prey but all that you see is the animal stalking the prey and then a whirlwind of dust. The predator walks out alone.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Species to reproduce, but you see nothing relating to that process.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Lifeboat to Mars is a free online biology simulation game developed by PBS Kids Go with a grant from the National Science Foundation. The game has two kinds of simulations: one where you control microbes and another where you control an animal and plant ecosystem. In the latter, predators do eat prey but all that is seen is a whirlwind from which only the predator emerges. Animals do produce young but kids will not see any mating rituals.
Is It Any Good?
Lifeboat to Mars is a great biology game because it lets kids learn by trial and error. Each of the 48 simulation scenarios set forth clear learning objectives and goals, and then provides the means to accomplish the goals. The key to making a good simulation for kids is to find the balance between making the achievement too easy and making it too hard. For the most part, Lifeboat to Mars finds that sweet spot; however, several of the simulations will take several tries before success is achieved. This is particularly true with the Microbe games.
Another exciting aspect of this free online game is the ability to create your own simulations to share with others. After working through the starter games and playing a few of the other more sophisticated scenarios, a new area opens up called "Modding." In the Modding sections for both Microbes and Ecoland, you can design your own scenarios. You can establish the goal of the scenario, and how hard it is to win, and then upload it to the game's servers for others to play.
For teachers wanting to incorporate this game into their science curriculum, a teacher's guide will be available on the PBS Kids Go website.
Online interaction: This game supports "Modding" where you can design and upload your own ecosystem scenarios for others to try. You can also try others created by unknown players.
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