Science is kid's play

Check out NOAA's planet arcade
November 24, 2014

Today, we're going to tell you about what's available over at NOAA's 'planet arcade'... and we're going to re-visit a 2009 interview with the National Ocean Service's education director to hear about NOAA's very first educational game ... and to learn why there's a growing trend to teach kids using fun gaming experiences.

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Educational games

Let's start off with what you'll find over at

Where Rivers Meet the Sea Game.
Where Rivers Meet the Sea Game.

This online portal launched in 2009 with a game called 'WaterLife: Where the Ocean Meets the Sea' — NOAA's first foray into the world of educational gaming. Kids who play WaterLife help restore a polluted estuary with the help of a river otter named Oscar. During the journey, young gamers learn about factors that produce healthy estuaries, about food webs, and why estuaries are essential to ocean life and to humans.

The second major educational game in the the NOAA WaterLife series came out earlier this year. It's called "Sea Turtles and the Quest to Nest."

Sea Turtles and the Quest to Nest Games
Sea Turtles and the Quest to Nest Games

This game takes kids on a journey to help a mother sea turtle find a safe place to lay her eggs ... and along the way, players learn about the many complex issues involved in protecting endangered loggerhead sea turtle populations.

The WaterLife games are aimed at fourth through seventh grade students, but even adults will find them entertaining and packed full of interesting science education and conservation tips.

And in addition to the WaterLife series, is also a jumping off point for a bunch of other great educational games from NOAA, the EPA, the National Park Service, National Geographic and PBS.

Ocean Challenge Puzzle.
Ocean Challenge Puzzle.

So why is NOAA making games for kids? What's the gaming portal all about? This week, we're going to revisit a 2009 interview with Peg Steffen, education director for the National Ocean Service, to learn more.

Peg led the development of the NOAA 'WaterLife' series, which she said are the types of experiences that are more and more in demand to meet the needs of digital natives — children who have grown up surrounded by digital technology.

Here's [a portion of] our interview from October, 2009, shortly after the debut of 'WaterLife: Where the Ocean Meets the Sea.'

Interview with Peg Steffen

[PEG STEFFEN] "We're finding that games are becoming more and more highly thought-of in the educational world as a tool to keep digital kids interested in school. Digital students now are different than they were 15 years ago. They need different kinds of methodologies, they don't tend to want to sit and do work sheets any more. They want to be more highly engaged in collaborative activities, in group activities, in problem-solving, in meeting challenges, and especially they're very interested in meeting some environmental challenges. And games can help fill that need."

Humpback Whale Migration Game.
Humpback Whale Migration Game.

While educational games are all about keeping digital kids engaged, Peg said that it's also about ensuring that kids today are able to compete and excel in the world down the road. In other words, games like WaterLife are about teaching important concepts, but they can also be powerful tools to help develop important life skills.

[PEG STEFFEN] "Those skills include things like strategic thinking, interpretive analysis, problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and educational games can develop these critical skills, and help to address that pressing need for the United States to strengthen its education system and to prepare these young people for the twenty-first century jobs. Our website also includes a lot of additional information about careers, links to educational activities and curricula, materials about what it's like to be a marine mammal ecologist, for example, and help students find information on the web that might lead them down the path to a science or technology career."

Draw your own nautical chart.
Draw your own nautical chart.

That website that Peg just mentioned is called 'Planet Arcade,' and it's at The flagship game on this site is WaterLife, but it's not the only offering kids will find there.

[PEG STEFFEN] " is a website that we hope that children will visit regularly to understand more environmental issues, and so we have populated it with a number of games that we've produced including our signature game, which is Water Life, Where the River Meets the Sea. But then we have also done some mini-games taken from some of our other offerings and put that on the website in addition to adding links to other games from other federal agencies and partners that have things that will help students understand environmental issues like beach clean-up, whale migration, ocean challenge puzzles, and some other things. So we've featured some things from the EPA, from National Geographic, from National Marine Sanctuaries, from Ocean Explorer. So there are a number of highlighted games, but we call it Planet Arcade because it does have an environmental twist to it. So we hope students will know that is the place to go for fun things about the environment. And it's getting a lot of traffic."

For additional information and to hear the rest of our Interview with Peg Steffen, visit the National Ocean Service's Making Waves Podcast on Educational Gaming.