Search This Blog

Friday, February 10, 2012

STEM friday: Slingshot, a gaming learning activity with teacher's input

Today I'm going to talk about Slingshot. Here's the URL:

Here's a little about the designers:

Fuzzy Duck Design / Fuzzy Duck Studios
Divisions of Imagebay Incorporated

I just received information about the site this morning, and looked over the teaching material about an hour ago.

First let me say that I firmly believe that gaming and other accoutrements of the modern world (apps, e-books, and online activities) make STEM material just as accessible as traditional books and magazines and should be taken very seriously by contemporary teachers trying to reach middle grade kids. I was at the KEEPING IT REAL conference on non-fiction for kids (January 2012, Sacramento, CA), and the keynote speaker said that the e-publishing world was not yet here. And many of us in the audience shook our heads in disbelief!

Slingshot is an attempt by educators, screenwriters and gamers to use the playtime aspects of characters and imaginative play to make certain aspects of engineering, aerospace, and planetary science more accessible and relevant.

The target age is 6-12. The game, and the embedded science-learning activity, looks top notch.

The characters are positioned in the Jupiter planetary environment, with its family of moons, and given a 'quest' type set of goals. In order to accomplish the goals, the characters have to have a good understanding of orbits, of atmospheric science and how to place a spacecraft into orbit using aero-braking and other engineering techniques. The characters have to understand changing aspects of their planetary environment such as changing gravity when they go from moon to moon, etc.

Here's a list of lessons:
1. Scale model of the solar system (plus more about energy and climate change)
2. Physical laws of motion (plus more)
3. How helicopters work (plus more: matter and anti-matter)
4. Aerodynamics of flybys with a slingshot maneuver around a planet (plus more about charged particles)
5. remote sensing and cameras (plus more about the element hydrogen, as in a hydrogen explosion).
6. the need for spacesuits; biology in space (plus more about life)
7. Aerodynamics of planetary entry (drop into an atmosphere). (plus more about icy moons with liquid water)
8. Surface and underwater on Europa
9. Extraterrestrial life (plus more about human biology and radiation sickness)
10. More biology in space (discussion of Biosphere 2)
11. recap
12. student activities

Also a significant portion of the lessons are addressed to non-technical things spanning getting along with others, to death in the line of duty.

As a writer, I appreciate the aspect of the materials addressed to effective characterization. As a member of the under-served population (I am African-American), I appreciated the site's attempt at Diversity. Nonetheless, I felt that the site's materials were presented upside down. Rationale for the site and details of the characterization were presented first, and the educational aspects last. I felt like that was the equivalent of showing me the sewing and pattern making when what I wanted was the suit itself. For kids, the site should dive into the conflict, put the audience into the situation, and explain the behind-the-scenes later.

They are putting kids into a situation, then asking them to understand some pretty sophisticated physics.

As someone involved in education at the University level (how do we engage youngsters so that we have the next generation of professors and professionals?) I understand the gap between the practice of science, and where some of the educational material is. (Example, I just reviewed a new Scholastic book about the planets, which was woefully simplistic, from my perspective. Neptune is not 'blue' for example.) As a professional, and a tax-payer, I'd like to see kids come up to speed a little faster. But as someone who delves into non-fiction writing for the ages 8-10, I find the range of Slingshot in terms of the lessons its trying to teach, to be ambitious. It seems a lot like Battlestar Galactica, with a technology guide attached.

I wish them luck, though. I believe that good games, with lessons attached, are the way to go.


  1. Thank you for hosting STEM Friday. Check out Rourke Publishing's blog:

    STEM Friday: What's On the Food Chain Menu?


  2. Interesting site, Precious. Lots of good resources. This will go into my resource list. good job.

  3. Thanks for hosting today. I have Step by Step Experiments with Plants today. I wrote the book!

  4. Thanks for hosting STEM Friday today. At Nomad Press, we've blogged about our new Explore book, Explore Water! 25 Great Projects, Activities, Experiments. Roll up your sleeves and enjoy the free activity!

  5. Love it, Nomad Press! Very nice activity, looks like fun for kids, also mixes in some history. This will go into my resource list.

  6. Sorry I'm a bit slow today. I have another Cybils nominee in the MG/YA category, 50 Poisonous Questions at

    Fun, interesting and educational, all in one.

    Thank you for hosting STEM Friday today.