Apps for Learning


Tanzilah Chowdhury, Ryan Abriel, Demos Antonopoulos

With SimCity, educators have more than a just digital game. They have the tools and content they need to make learning come alive for their students. In the game, students play the role of mayor, doing the challenging work of addressing environmental impact while balancing the employment needs and the happiness of the city’s residents.

SimCity not only teaches students about the factors affecting the environment in a modern city, but the game also provides formative assessment information about students’ ability to problem solve and explain the relationships in complex systems.

In other words, SimCity is a dynamic game system that comes to life when a player makes choices, telling a particular story about how cities are developed and managed. SimCity is an engaging city-building simulation and continues to evolve. With this game, every choice you make will affect your city, your region and the world within the game.

Links to Academic Learning and Curriculum Expectations:

SimCity is made up of many missions all centered on theme of environmental impact. In each mission, students are tasked with solving increasingly complex problems.

Students will have the opportunity to plan and manage their city from scratch, being graded at various stages on the basis of their ability to translate their learning into tangible outcomes in SimCity. Rather than being graded on how well they can recall facts and figures, they will be graded on the health of their Sims and other aspects such as, greenhouse gas emissions from their city.

Educators will be able to create and share digital SimCity-based lesson plans that will encourage students to think critically about the challenges facing modern cities. In the classroom, SimCity will be more than a game – it will be a way for the next generation of leaders to hone their skills through urban planning, environmental management and socio-economic development.

Grade 7 Geography

  • Strand A. Physical Patterns in a Changing World
  • Strand B. Natural Resources around the World: Use and Sustainability

Grade 8 Geography

  • Strand A. Global Settlement: Patterns and Sustainability
  • Strand B. Global Inequalities: Economic Development and Quality of Life

Topics to cover: Natural Resources in Canada, Canadian Economy, Design and Planning, Ecosystem Health, Energy, Ethics, Food Systems & Agriculture, Future Studies & Visioning, Human Impact & Environmental Footprint, Health, Lifestyles & Consumption, Pollution & Waste, Social & Environmental Well-being, Climate Change, Water and Watersheds, Sustainability Concepts & Practices

Connection To Practice


Mission School Is In

  • Systems Thinking: Designing an interconnected city

Mission We Need Jobs

  • Critical Thinking: Maximizing productive resources

Mission Pollution Problems

  • Cause and Effect: Measuring human impact on the environment

Mission Its Complicated

  • System Modeling: Re-balance productivity andenvironmental health (interdependent variables) withinthe city ecosystem allows teachers and students to use an online space where students can upload their cities for teachers to assess.Glass lab games also offers lesson plans and city building video tutorials for teachers to use.


Where does SimCity Fit into TPACK?

Connection To Research


SimCity is definitely not a city stimulator. Some of the key problems with SimCity as a stimulator are seen in the following example below.

Does this look like a realistic city scape?

  • The car is dramatically out of scale for the city and is trying to drive up a 45 degree angle road
  • The people are really tiny compared to the wall they are walking beside which is about six feet high with a fence on top of it.
  • There are three bridges in a span of three blocks that is probably not something you would see in most cities - TOO EXPENSIVE
  • SimCity is a fantasy of a city where the weather does not really affect the game
  • The graphics play with scale that you just do not see in the real world

The Real Problem

The real problem with SimCity as a teacher of teaching urban planning is the role you play in the game. You play the role of a mayor but there is just one problem with that because in the real world the Mayor is elected, the Mayor can be kicked out of office, and the Mayor has to respond to the constituents of the citizens of the city. The real thing you have to understand about how cities work is that the complexities of cities is all based on the principle of public interest and private property. There is no private property in SimCity.  

A Critical Discussion About Media and Particular Games

You can use SimCity to stimulate a critical discussion about media and particular games. You may think it is difficult to do this in an elementary students but it is quite important children from a young age be sensitized towards looking more closely to media. Think about SimCity not just as a way to teach concepts such as commercial zoning, taxation, planning and systems but to have also critical discussions about this game itself.  

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