On a recent Friday afternoon, Springs School students were busy defending their empire against attacking foes and advancing their civilization by building up their resources of food, gold and stone. As part of Project MOST’s after-school program, the students in the Cyber Club play a series of simulation games that challenge their multitasking skills and their ability to manage resources and cooperate with others.
Sixth-grader Aaron Clarke was preparing for battle that Friday afternoon. On his computer screen, his land was filled with flourishing farms, a busy village and a mass of military men training for the task ahead.
The goal in the game he was playing, “Age of Mythology,” is to have a flourishing civilization by micromanaging an economy, building improvements and furthering different types of ancient people. The game is set in a mythological realm populated with creatures and technology from ancient Greek, Norse and Egyptian civilizations, and students can use the unique powers and magic of each civilization to improve their empires. It is up to the students to explore the region, discover new resources such as food, water, gold, and stone, and then research new technologies to advance to more complex ages. Their civilizations will flourish or weaken depending on their managerial decisions.
“I’m trying to build up my army,” Aaron said. “At 4:47 we’re going to have a big battle. Getting all your resources in the beginning is the hardest.”
Since they are in the same virtual region, students can share resources, discoveries, form alliances or compete with one another.
Likewise, in “Age of Empires,” another game the club plays, students manage resources, multitask, cooperate with other town leaders and create thriving empires.
In a hurry to get all of his resources together, eighth-grader Taylor Murphy said it’s all about multitasking.
“While you’re fighting you have to have a good economy or you die,” he said while clicking on his resources around his map. “You need to have food and gold to make the best soldiers.”
Students also have the option of playing “Sim City,” where they can create their own cities in the same virtual region. As creators, they micromanage their city’s needs, from electricity to water, employment, sewage disposal, health care, crime prevention, fire safety and education, all while keeping the local economy in check. The goal is to build a safe, smart city high in revenue and low in crime and pollution.
According to Adam Osterweil, who teaches sixth and seventh grade English and stays after school to host the Cyber Club, the group of about 20 students meets once a week. He said playing these games takes a ton of focus and helps students master different skills all at once. As a bonus, it’s actually fun, he said.
“There’s a lot of math they have to do—it’s like chess with hundreds of pieces,” he said. “It’s also an alternative for kids. It gives them something to do other than sports. They work on their critical thinking skills and they enjoy it at the same time.”
He said the skills students pick up in the game can translate to the classroom as well.
“If they have to juggle a literacy essay, they have to juggle literary terms, coming up with a thesis, and have to work with excerpts from a text,” he said. “It’s a mind-expanding activity.”
According to Tim Bryden, Project MOST’s executive director, the games help students practice their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills, which will better prepare them for the future.
Project MOST’s goal is to improve students’ grasp of STEM concepts through reinforcement after school. Students are given the opportunity to do this through unorthodox means, meaning they play games, like chess or “Age of Empires,” take cooking classes or even do a little gardening. At the Springs School, about 170 students stay after school for Project MOST.
There are only three girls in the Cyber Club, but a brave three—typically the club has been a favorite among boys, according to Mr. Bryden.
Fifth-graders Brianna Lupercio, Denise Alanis and Alexandra Londno said they signed up for the class and haven’t regretted it.
“You get to build and use teamwork to win,” Brianna said. “We weren’t sure if it was a good idea, but we really enjoy it and understand what the boys meant.”
They joined the club despite the possibility of being called “geeks” by their peers, and are having fun while learning how to manage their resources and work together, they said.
Mr. Bryden said he was hoping for that very goal.
“We hope the out-of-school time Cyber Club will help students get excited about science and math by experiencing hands-on challenges that require use of math and science principles,” he said. “Our goal especially with the girls who are participating is to increase interest toward STEM careers as they move through school.”