How to Teach Problem-solving With Oregon Trail and Win7

My students love Oregon Trail (check out my lesson plan). It fits nicely with a unit of inquiry in both 3rd and 4th grade so

oregon trail

Oregon Trail doesn't play well with Win 7

students learns the history of settlers moving west the first year and reinforce the second year.

Oregon Trail makes it easy to catch the important concepts because it puts them right at the top of the screen–You die of malaria, You reach the Blue River. I ask questions of students like What were problems faced by settlers along the trail (they caught diseases)? What natural landmarks did they cross (the Blue River). I have 3rd graders fill out a questionnaire and I have 4th graders complete an expanded version digitally. They bring a Word doc up electronically and fill it out on the computer as they play the game.

Besides the obvious learning experience about the Oregon Trail, students cover valuable computer skills:

  • Students learn to Ctrl+click as a method of accessing links in my provided Word doc. This is a new skill in fourth grade.
  • Students learn to complete a Word doc on the computer. This is the first time I introduce this skill also.
  • The questionnaire contains a second page of links to Oregon Trail sites. Since I don’t want students printing the links page, students have to learn how to print just page 1.

This two-week unit is a big hit with students. Here’s the problem. Oregon Trail doesn’t play well with Win 7. It freezes, stalls, blows up. We’ve called the manufacturer, but no luck. At first, I was sorely disappointed to lose such a valuable simulation. All of the ‘trail’ series are wonderful–Amazon Trail, Inca Trail, Yukon Trail. The only one that is networked is  Oregon Trail, so I limited myself to that one, not wanting the confusion of CD’s popping in and out of drives and getting scratched and broken.

Then I had an epiphany as I watched students work through the stalls and freezes. They wanted to know how to fix the problems so they could continue with the game. Wow. What better way to teach problem solving than to teach it with real-life situations that students are motivated to solve. It’s turned into a successful problem-solving lesson.

Here’s what we learn:

  • When the program freezes, they learn that Alt+F4 will close down programs most of the time so they can restart
  • If Alt+F4 doesn’t work, they learn how to get to the Task Manager with Ctr+Alt+Del.
  • They learn that once in the task manager, they go to ‘applications’, select the offending program and click ‘end task’. All of us have had to do that. Now the kids know how
  • Sometimes, Oregon Trail is hidden behind a black screen. Students learn to use Alt+Tab to cycle through open screens
  • Sometimes, the program collapses to the taskbar. Students learn to check the taskbar for open programs, click on the one they want and re-open

Problem solving is an important part of technology. Computers never go smoothly and progressing past these speed bumps is the most frustrating part of working with tech. Through this lesson, students learn that it’s part of life, that problems can be solved, and they accept them without the drama of throwing the computer away and starting over.

I will probably continue with this program next year, with an introduction that they aren’t just learning about settlers.

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman.  She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.


Categories: critical thinking, fourth grade, History, lesson plans, third grade | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “How to Teach Problem-solving With Oregon Trail and Win7

  1. Pingback: Story Problems in Real Life « What I Desired To Say…

  2. Pingback: Dear Otto: My computers are old. What do I do? « Ask a Tech Teacher

  3. Pingback: Dear Otto: My computers are old. What do I do? « Jacqui Murray

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