Can your North American students locate Iraq on a map of the world? If the answer is yes, then they are in the minority according to a National Geographic survey.
The same survey found that 20 percent of young Americans think that Sudan is in Asia, and 48 percent think that the majority of the population in India is Muslim. American students consistently fall short when it comes to knowledge of geography. In fact, the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress rated less than a third of American students proficient in the subject area.
Educators in traditional and online schools can help boost the numbers by ensuring that geography is exciting and fun to learn, a feat that is made easier with the right tools. Here are nine educational geography video games for enlivening your lessons and raising your students’ geography IQ. While not as up-to-date as many of their math and science counterparts, it’s a start, yes?
ClueFinders: 4th Grade Adventures (PC and Mac)
Produced by The Learning Company, ClueFinders is a collection of educational software designed for children ages 8 to 12. In 4th Grade Adventures, kids solve puzzles and collect clues to stop an evil archaeologist. The game covers a number of different subjects, so while geography is not its sole focus, there are learning activities around U.S. states and cities and some major cities around the world.
GeoCycle USA (PC and Mac)
Targeting students 8 to 12 years old, GeoCycle, from EdVenture Software, invites players to travel across the U.S. on a flying GeoCycle. The game helps build map-reading and navigation skills while teaching states and their capitals, as well as rivers, deserts, bodies of water, mountains and some well-known sites. The game includes photographs and simple maps that help younger children become more familiar with the U.S.
Developed by Swedish IT professional Anton Wallen, GeoGuessr provides visuals from around the world using Google Maps’ street view. The game shows an unidentified scene and invites players to guess where it is by placing a marker on a world map. Students can make guesses based on terrain, road signs and other clues, and score points based on how close their guesses are.
GeoNet, an online game produced by Houghton Mifflin Social Studies, invites players to choose a U.S. region or continent and quizzes players on a variety of topics, including spacial information, physical and human characteristics, physical systems, humans and the environment, and more. A nice feature of this site is that when the questions are answered correctly, a balloon pops up offering more information on the topic.
I Love the USA (PC and Mac)
Designed for children ages 6 to 9, I Love the USA, from Global Software Publishing, invites players to find “Joe,” who has left clues around the U.S. as to his whereabouts. The game has numerous interactive features, such as a train that provides help information, an interactive weather mobile, and a variety of quizzes and puzzles. Players can visit major landmarks, track weather across the country and learn to identify states by shape.
Learn Geography (Nintendo DS)
Produced by DreamCatcher, Learn Geography offers a challenging way for students to learn about countries and people all over the world. The software includes educational quizzes and a number of mini games such as City Search and Paint the Flag, but its central game is a global treasure hunt, in which players solve geography clues that tell them where to fly next.
Mission Possible World Geography (PC and Mac)
Designed for ages 12 and up, this game from EdVenture features a spy theme. Players have to answer world geography questions in order to advance to the International Weather Research Base to save the world from global warming. Questions appear in multiple formats, and the primary focus is the location of countries, states and capitals, major cities, famous sites, and some topographic features.
National Geographic Challenge (Nintendo Wii)
From Ignition Entertainment, National Geographic Challenge uses the format of a game show to explore the world through geography and history. Best suited for multiple players (up to four), you can choose your level of difficulty. Stunning videos and rich educational content make this a visual and intellectual feast.
Less visually powerful but with a more accessible platform, the National Geographic website offers an assortment of games for kids, and its geography section has about a dozen on various topics. Particularly recommended is Go West with Lewis and Clark, which has players help make decisions during the expedition, and has links to more information and excerpts from their journal.
Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? (PC and Facebook)
Supervillain Carmen Sandiego runs an international crime ring, and players in this game from Encore Software are enlisted to help recover the stolen goods. Players follow clues relating to 50 countries around the world and can challenge themselves with puzzles and mind teasers. Designed for ages 8-12, the game is now largely played on Facebook, making it a good choice for online schooling.
Gaming has become a vital part of the modern classroom, and with good reason. Students respond favorably to gaming in any setting and can become motivated to learn when the right educational video games are introduced. Use these video games to motivate, inspire and engage your students as they soak in valuable geography knowledge.
Margaret Brewster is a freelance writer and non-profit consultant. She is a contributor at onlineschools.com.