Junior Simulation Insight
This review by Paul Heinrich, ICT Adviser for Portsmouth City Council, first appeared in 'EC&T' in December 2005.
This fascinating program enables learners to build and explore scientific models in order to develop understanding through the exploration of patterns and rules. It also cuts across subject boundaries, illustrating connections between e.g. science, maths, and geography.
Several pre-built models are included such as Growing Plants, The Water Cycle, Simple Electric Circuits, Foxes and Rabbits etc that allow investigation of key aspects of the science curriculum. Users have access to a collection of on-screen switches, buttons, sliders, dials and chart and shapes to place on screen to vary the inputs to the chosen model. Rules may be varied via plain language statements such as “is the sum of”, “decreases as” and “varies in proportion to” and can be shown as a full sentence, a short rule or a formula. Pupils with good prior experience of control languages should have no problems but require a sound understanding of the vocabulary.
Artwork can be added to bring models alive and is displayed in a scene window, with animation and sound. Full charting and graphing facilities enable capture and measurement during investigation of the model’s behaviour.
Uses can also create their own models using the “building” mode, which is also used to modify pre-built models. This sophisticated tool requires little detailed knowledge of programming or algebra and is readily accessible to junior pupils. However, teachers do need to explore it thoroughly and understand how it works before using it with learners if they are to get the best from it. While the interface is quite logical a clear understanding of purpose is necessary. It is perhaps more appropriate for extending the understanding of more able pupils, perhaps through group activities. It could also be used via an interactive whiteboard as a whole-class teaching tool.
Fortunately documentation is clear and concise, including a set of Quick Star Tutorials, leading users in simple steps to the most complex procedures. Online help is available while the program is running. A good explanation of modelling processes and their importance in developing scientific thinking is also provided. This includes supporting worksheets for the pre-prepared models with activities, teaching points and further notes on the model. A comprehensive guide covers designing your own models, including how to build a scene window while a website with further support is under construction.
This really is a most exciting program, allowing children to explore science using similar modelling techniques to professional scientists.
Age range: 8 - 14