Kerbal Space Program lifts off in classrooms

Kerbal Space Program
Seth Tipps

By Seth Tipps

October 31st 2013 at 9:07AM

MinecraftEdu company TeacherGaming helps bring space simulator to educators

It's one small step for a little green alien - one giant leap for education as company behind MinecraftEdu brings another popular sandbox game to the classroom, rocketing learning into the 21st century with Kerbal Space Program.

TeacherGaming tweaks games for easier use by teachers in a classroom setting, making only minimal changes to the back-end so that educators can fine-tune for their needs but kids won't notice the difference.

“The idea is that we don’t ruin the game,” TeacherGaming CEO Santeri Koivisto said in an interview with PCGamesN.

“So when the kids come to school they don’t think it’s some rubbish school Minecraft, they just know it’s their favourite game at home and now they’re playing it at school.”

Koivisto's company has already made quite a name for itself in the education and gaming world with its mod of Mojang's blockbusting sandbox.

Minecraft has been used for such diverse applications as teaching environmental science and urban planning, but Kerbal Space Program - in which users use a simplified Auto-Cad to build spacecraft and pilot them through a fictional solar system - offers a more direct translation to science and maths instructors.

But before students can begin pitting Delta-V against gravity, there are some major hurdles that TeacherGaming helps to overcome.

The biggest problem is purchasing. While normal user can simply pull out a credit card and pay for a game, schools have very limited budgets and specific rules that govern purchasing.

TeacherGaming helps by arranging educational discounts for schools and monitoring purchases so that no takes advantage of the cut prices to resell the game for profit.

It's a symbiotic relationship: TeacherGaming gives KSP developer Squad a fantastic source of revenue, and Squad helps TeacherGaming with tech support.

“How we think of it is that these guys, and Mojang, and everybody else we work with, should concentrate on making the game as fun and as great as possible,” said Koivisto.

“We need the super awesome game as the core. These guys are the ones concentrating on that. We don’t want to mess with how the game works, it should be how it is.”

The importance of fun in educational games can't be overstated.

While gamification has been a major topic of educational conferences for some time true games that have educational value are few and far between, which is a problem – engagement is even more crucial to educators than the free-to-play mobile market.

“Our point of view for education in general and with Kerbal is not that we should teach you force and mass or Newton’s laws, but to get people interested and understanding some of the very basic concepts,” explained Koivisto.

“A lot of schools have one hour per week of computer lab time, which is a ridiculously small amount. So what can you do other than get them excited, get them interested, so that they learn at home?”

With companies like TeacherGaming acting as a go-between, finding classroom-appropriate games that both challenge and inspire students is getting a lot simpler for educators.