This review by Paul Heinrich, ICT Adviser for Portsmouth City Council, first appeared in 'EC&T' in December 2005.
This is a powerful and flexible simulation tool for exploring the behaviour of a variety of systems represented in virtual environments. It is particularly valuable in Science to support investigative work into complex phenomena such as, e.g. the movement of asteroids entering the Earth’s magnetic field.
Behind the simulation lie mathematical models containing all the rules and variables. Simulation Insight provides full access to all aspects of these models, them to be refined and modified to achieve maximum accuracy for the phenomenon being investigated. Users build the model using plain English sentences to describe relationships between variables, making it accessible to a wide range of students. Advance users have an algebraic alternative for more complex descriptions.
The program works in four modes – Running, Recording, Playback and Building. New users can explore ready-made models by running them and interacting with controls, observing effects, taking measurements and making and testing predictions. Recording mode saves data and plots it on a graph display while Playback allows action replays and the opportunity to study recorded data. These tools provide significant flexibility and support in-depth review and analysis of the outcomes of a given simulation. Build mode allows users to develop their own simulations and amend those provided.
The documentation is very clear taking users step by step through the concepts of model design and the process of creating variables and scenes for the simulation. This is not the most intuitive application and teachers will need to spend some time learning its procedures and structures before using it with a class. The manual advises that first use with pupils should be via the ready prepared simulations and this advice should be heeded. With experience, teachers and pupils can construct many models though will wish to hone their skills by modifying and refining the ready-made simulations first.
The supplied files cover several physics and biology themes of varying complexity, from thermal insulation of humans and houses through to global warming and orbits in space. These are well matched to the secondary science curriculum. Two chemistry themes are also provided. These simulations could be used as group activities in a computer suit and are very appropriate for whole-class teaching using an interactive whiteboard.
This innovative package provides a valuable tool with which to explore those complex concepts that cannot readily be demonstrated in the laboratory while demonstrating to pupils the power of simulations as a scientific tool.
Age range: 12- adult