In early December 2021, several 5th grade classes at Zundy Elementary in Wichita Falls, Texas, helped beta test the Missouri Basin Balancer web-based video game for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Northwestern Division.
The game began as an Omaha District Leadership Development Program project in 2013 and began its initial programmer development through a contract with the Army's Aviation & Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center, AMRDEC, in 2014. The game launched in 2015. Unfortunately, the game went offline in 2020 when the platform it was originally built on ended.
Throughout 2021, Michelle Schultz and Eileen Williamson, original 2013 Omaha District Leadership Development Program members, and Simone Cohen in the Omaha District worked with Dr. Jennerpher Bryner, a computer programmer at USACE's Engineer Research and Development Center, ERDC, to get the game updated.
Once the game was ready to test, Williamson asked Richard Partridge, a college classmate and former Wichita Falls Independent School District coworker for help. Partridge's classes are a computer technology (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) STAAR skills class. His students played the game and then as part of their writing skills assignment, they documented the errors they encountered while playing the game. They reported the errors to Williamson who reviewed them and submitted them to Dr. Bryner to address in the game's programming.
Just like the 2013 version of the game, players take control of two dams along an interior river system. The river begins in the mountains where snowfall and snowmelt can be affected by warm or cool spring temperatures. If temperatures are warm, early spring rainfall can accelerate snowmelt and if temperatures are cool, snowmelt may be delayed or if snow accumulates into early summer, runoff could be delayed and extend later into the summer.
When the original game was designed in 2013, 4th and 5th grade students in Nebraska who beta tested the game had 2011 flooding along the Missouri River in their recent memory.
But, as they beta tested the game, it was operating during a drought that they noted as more challenging.
“The hardest ones to keep green are ones where water is needed,” said a student beta tester. “If it’s too high, you can let water out. But you can’t control the weather or make more water.”
Another student said “I just tried to keep things green and hope they were red from too much water instead of not enough.”
Partridge had similar feedback about the game noting the severe drought that Wichita Falls had experienced from 2011-2015 with storage levels at some area reservoirs falling below 25%.
Partridge and his classes received a thank you note from Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, 55th Chief of Engineers and USACE commanding general; a certificate and video thank you from Colonel Geoff Van Epps, Northwestern Division commander; and a video thank you Mr. John Remus, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’, Missouri River Basin Water Management Division for their contribution.
In his message, Van Epps said, "Maybe it will inspire some of you to pursue a future career in computer programming, mathematics, or engineering."
Partridge also expressed his thanks for the opportunity to show his students the game and to show his students how computer science, coding, science and writing tie together for potential careers.
Virtual relationships such as this one can play a large part in building future relationships that will promote STEM opportunities to communities across the U.S.
The game can be found at: https://www.nwd.usace.army.mil/Basin-Balancer/.