The Power Game

I did something I normally don't do: I had my students play a computer game for class the other day.

We've just finished nonrenewable resources - specifically coal and oil. We rounded last week out with a portion of the documentary, Switch, which gives a great nonpartisan look to oil and coal use in the developed and developing worlds. Students understood - in theory - that we are facing not only environmental challenges, but economic as well.

I'd been trying to come up with some kind of simulation for students so they could really experience that economic and environmental conflict. I didn't really find a good one, so I booked one of the computer labs and we played Energy City. It's a game created by The National Geographic Society and The JASON project. Think simpler SimCity with less people-managing and more resource managing.

I liked this as an inquiry activity because most students dive right into producing energy with coal and oil because it's cheap and powerful. They tend to focus more on saving and making money rather than conserving environmental resources. It was often too late to come back from failure by the time they realized that air quality and overall environmental health don't recoup nearly as fast. A lot of games ended in losses pretty quickly.

It really helped students understand they need a balance. They couldn't dive in without projecting long-term costs. Most started looking at the per-turn cost rather than the up front. They also looked at what actually improved their environmental impact rather than degraded.

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