Cool School: Where Peace Rules is a free online game that teaches kids ages 4-8 how to resolve conflict at school.
Anyone can access the free website and start a game. (An optional page asks for a user's age and gender for research purposes, and the introductory section has both visual and audio instructions.) From the main menu, players click on a map of the school, then select one of 10 buildings. An animated video presents one of 52 potential conflict scenarios in which students argue over a commonplace issue. The videos introduce realistic situations, such as kids pushing in line. Players hear both sides of the story, then select one of four choices (abbreviations appear on a chalkboard) of how a character should respond. Students then watch a video to see the consequences of their choice. If the conflict is not resolved, the player is asked to "Try again, friend" until the right answer is selected. If the conflict is resolved, the player receives verbal reinforcement of the lesson, and a letter appears in the main menu when they return. Players can continue until they earn all 26 letters and print a certificate, or they can save the game and play later.
This interactive method is incredibly powerful. The characters are animated objects such as books or chalk with diverse names and accents, so everyone can relate. Using language that's just right for kids, the characters translate abstract ideas like "inclusion" into real-world situations, such as inviting someone to join a team on the playground or a table in the cafeteria. Kids are actively engaged in learning through trial and error, just like in real life.
Of course, the answers to these realistic scenarios are not clear-cut. Sometimes it's good to stand up for a friend in an argument. But if a kid is in physical danger, for example, it's better to walk away or get an adult. The nuanced range of scenarios helps kids develop an impressive toolkit of conflict-resolution techniques.
Kids learn that people can choose how to react to situations, and that it's good to take other people's feelings into account. The overall lessons are reinforced not only through the short scenarios but also through a running side story about the school bully, Jinx. Over time, kids learn that Jinx was bullied when he was younger, which is why he’s so mean to other kids. With support from the compassionate school principal, Jinx eventually chooses to stop being a bully.
Cool School is a great way to teach empathy, and may be more effective than the occasional lecture that might either confuse kids or make them feel singled out. Kids learn conflict-resolution skills by doing them. For example, one of the popular tools in Cool School is asking another character, "How would you feel if someone did that to you?"
It's certainly a non-linear learning tool, so kids progress randomly. There's no teacher dashboard at this time so it's difficult to track student progress, but Cool School is a nonprofit and developers are working to provide additional teacher resources. A few supplemental activities are available to teachers who contact the developers, along with research on how the game supports learning.