What is life like for a factory worker in Brazil or a police officer in Nigeria? Students can find out with the interactive computer program Real Lives, which helps teachers make social studies more personal by simulating experiences in far-flung places.
The program gives each student an identity—including a name, hometown, and gender—and uses statistical probabilities to determine how their virtual lives will unfold. Characters may be wealthy or live in poverty; some reach old age, while others die during childhood.
Students have to make decisions. Some are practical, such as how to spend leisure time, how to budget, and what job to get. Others are more complicated: whether to give birth to a child or have an abortion, whether to fight government human rights abuse or keep quiet.
Unexpected events happen. Characters become ill, get robbed, and suffer in natural disasters. Marriages falter and characters lose jobs.
With each event, students learn about the culture, economy, public health, and other aspects of the countries in which their characters live. The program also provides links to relevant Web sites.
Real Lives won the 2006 Family Learning Software of the Year award from Computers for Youth, a New York City nonprofit. The software, including a free trial version, is available online at educationalsimulations.com. An updated version is planned for release in late 2006 or 2007.