Product Review of Planet Mechanic
Planet Mechanic turns part of a solar system into a sandbox. Students play with scientific laws as they try to craft the perfect homeworld for a demanding alien taskmaster. Tweaking a series of planetary options — presence of a moon, the distance in orbit from the sun, the tilt of the planet’s axis, and the thickness of the atmosphere — players create the perfect home for a fickle extraterrestrial who one minute wants shorter days, and the next, warmer nights. As learners fiddle with the settings, they learn about the cause-and-effect relationships between major planetary variables and their environmental effects. Planet too hot? Move it away from the sun. Want ocean tides? Add a moon! By encouraging lighthearted trial-and-error experimentation, Planet Mechanic acts as a simple, playful interactive introduction to some universal concepts. To ensure learners master the ideas, and not just the interface, simple quiz questions after each activity test for concept comprehension.
Life on Earth results from a delicate balance of galactic factors. Planet Mechanic helps illustrate the relationships between things like planetary orbit, temperature, water, ice, atmosphere, and planetary tilt. Watching a marble-sized planet whirl around a pulsing sun helps illustrate the dynamic nature of a planetary system, and the ability of the player to change many key variables in this simulation helps cement the relationships between orbits, planet temperature, and length of a day or a year. Lots of in-game coaching and detail make this a perfect homework assignment to brush up on or lead into lecture or discussion on the game’s central topics. And its short length — perhaps 20 minutes to play through all the levels — make it a viable option for a computer lab where learners first play Planet Mechanic then dive into more in-depth research on the Web for a report, essay, or presentation. For instance, learners could write a report explaining — or craft a presentation illustrating — what it is about Earth that makes it hospitable to life. They could also speculate about how changes to Earth’s delicate balance of variables would impact life.
Flipping switches and seeing immediate results offers a compelling initial learning experience that focuses on scientific modeling and experimentation. It’s an accessible seed of some very complex scientific learning content — gravity, the movement of celestial bodies, atmosphere — and teaches some of this content conceptually by just giving learners a working model and letting them see how it all works. Unfortunately, over the 15-20 minutes it takes to complete a scenario, it loses some of this feeling of experimentation and discovery, and settles into familiarity. So, for instance, when the googly-eyed alien Senator Flaax requests that the length of his planet’s day equal 10 Earth days, the only and obvious solution is to slow the rotation of his planet to a crawl until the meter ticks to 10 Earth days. Interesting at first, but not particularly fun successively. If looked at as a 15-20 minute experience, however, it introduces some key content well.
Overall User Consensus About the App
It’s amusing to twiddle knobs and change a planet’s properties.
Curriculum and Instruction
The tunable model illustrates a few key variables and concepts underlying the differing properties of planets.
Tutorials walk players through the basics, and some in-game help text defines terms and allows players to monitor how changes they make affect planet properties like temperature.