The nonprofit learning company GlassLab has launched Use Your Brainz EDU, an educational version of Plants vs. Zombies 2 to teach children problem-solving skills.
The title is part of a larger mission to improve education and make learning less boring through games. GlassLab and Electronic Arts’ PopCap studio released the game today for schools on the North American iTunes App Store and its web site. The title has already been downloaded tens of millions of times since its release in 2013.
The game includes a real-time assessment tool for teachers to gauge the progress that students are making with their problem-solving skills. There’s a student report dashboard on four areas of competency, all aimed at figuring out a student’s level of understanding of the game. The learning goal is for students to improve problem-solving skills and to connect the game to lessons in the classroom. The students’ skills can be assessed without disrupting gameplay.
Beyond that, GlassLab isn’t changing the gameplay, since Plants vs. Zombies 2’s existing gameplay teaches problem solving. The title can also be used with a mathematical problem-solving scenario that specifically teaches math. The title is a “tower defense” game that pits players against an army of cartoonish zombies trying to break into their houses and eat their brains. To ward off the zombies, players must strategically plant their gardens with powerful plant obstacles, each with unique abilities designed to keep zombies at bay before time runs out.
GlassLab, which also made an educational version of SimCity and a Mars educational game, added a learning analytics engine to capture a student’s progress. Teachers will also receive lesson plans to break down the problems and develop problem-solving strategies.
GlassLab Games worked on the Use Your Brainz EDU with Electronic Arts’ PopCap Games division and a research team at Florida State University. Psychology professor Val Shute of Florida State University has conducted extensive research into the educational value of other games, including Portal 2.
“Good game design mirrors good learning design,” GlassLab said in a video. “The work was done for us by the PopCap team. All we had to do was make the learning visible.”
“Teachers everywhere have come to understand the amazing power that games have to engage students and adopt them for use in the classroom,” said GlassLab’s Executive Director Jessica Lindl, in a statement. “It’s up to us to provide games that are not just gripping, but that truly unlock the learning inherent in these games and make it easy for teachers to apply to their lesson plans the skills they teach. Use Your Brainz represents the best of both worlds — a game that kids already love that is a best-in-class tool for teaching problem solving.”
Later this week, GlassLab will post lesson plans tied to the game that cover Common Core Math Practices related to problem solving.
GlassLab works with Educational Testing Service, Electronic Arts, the Entertainment Software Association, Institute of Play, Pearson’s Center for Digital Data, Analytics & Adaptive Learning, Zynga.org and others. GlassLab has funding from the The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.