Most Modules (right now, Ecology, Weather and Climate, and Growth & Genetics) have Sandboxes.
Ecology Sandbox: students build ecosystems from scratch -- adding producers, varied consumers, and decomposers. They must balance as each eats and reproduces and competes for resources.
Growth & Genetics Sandbox: students breed dragon-like creatures and must use their knowledge of genetics to result in their ideal version! They even have secret mutations and genetically activated genes!
Weather and Climate Sandbox: students transform a dead, barren planet into a life-supporting world with multiple biomes by adjusting factors like planet tilt, rotation speed, and adding air masses. As humans begin populating the planet, students balance keeping humans happy while minimizing their impact on the environment around them.
These are more open simulation-based experiences, rather than the guided inquiry within the Quests. Educators can use these as longer-term projects across a unit, so that students improve in the Sandbox as they improve their understanding of the concepts and can improve their performance and skills within the Sandbox.
Sandboxes have built-in scaffolding, such as letting students unlock more species as they progress (including larger ones, like apex predators), which helps prevent the student from destroying their ecosystem immediately, letting them build up their ecosystem and work towards larger goals.
When you go to a Sandbox in the Learning Dashboard, you'll see we've added a bulleted list of how the Progression works in the Sandbox to make sure you have an understanding of what the game experience is.
Features & Limitations
Under that, we have a table that outlines the features and limitations of a Sandbox so you know what the model/simulation does and does not represent.
This is actually directly linked to a Crosscutting Concept in the NGSS: "Systems and System Models." At the middle school level, students are expected to demonstrate that:
"Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems."
"Models are limited in that they only represent certain aspects of the system under study."
So the features and limitations are important for you to plan as an educator, but also represent an opportunity for direct discussion with your students.
We also have a section for suggested Sandbox activities, so that you can easy adopt an extension to help guide your students' experiences.
These have suggestions and related worksheets or organizers, such as this one about comparing the systems and model of the game vs. real life for the Ecology Sandbox:
By default, Sandboxes will unlock for students after they have reached Level 3 in a Module, and then will continue to progress from there. As an Educator, you can also unlock it directly from the Learning Dashboard if you'd prefer to use it sooner.