Available on: PC ($9.99 on Steam – has been as low as $1.99 on sale; available for free for educators via Steam for Schools)
Official website: http://universesandbox.com/
Suitable for: young learners and adults (pre-intermediate and up)
Necessary materials: working version of the game*, PC and projector (for large classes)
Next, start up the game and run a simulation of our solar system. Check that the students are familiar with the following words: planet, star, moon, asteroid, galaxy, orbit, gravity – using the simulation to provide examples.
Put the students into small groups (2, 3 or 4 should be fine), assign a scribe and dictate the following questions**:
…the Sun doubled in size?
…the Earth had rings like Saturn?
…the Moon exploded?
…Jupiter crashed into the Sun?
…the Sun disappeared?
As a class, discuss each group’s ideas before running the simulation in Universe Sandbox.* Instruct students to make notes about what they see and then compare what happened in the simulation to their own predictions.
Here is a screencast example of what happens when the Sun doubles in size:
To wrap up, each group reports back to the class about how accurate their predictions were. Make a note of any common language errors and go over them on the board afterwards.
**These quesitons can, of course, be simplified for lower levels unfamiliar with the second conditional. Each quesiton, for example, could be posed as a scenario ("The Sun suddenly grows to twice its normal size! What will happen to the solar system?" and so on).
And finally, it always pays to become familiar with the software and run through each simulation a few times before you use this in class!