Classroom Technology Opinion

Simulations Spell Sizzling Science

By Tom Vander Ark — November 13, 2012 2 min read
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It’s usually true that there’s nothing better than learning by doing, but sometimes simulation is better than the real thing. When it comes to life,
physical, and earth science, simulation can compress time, connect tasks, and allow students to see multiple dimensions.

is a five-year initiative to demonstrate the role simulations can play in middle school science learning and assessment. Dr. Edys Quellmalz oversees
SimScientists for

WestEd’s Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) education program. Like Dr. Quellmalz, we think it’s time for more simulations in class and on tests.

The hands on nature of interactive simulations -- designing, conducting, and interpreting various kinds of investigations -- helps students demonstrate how
they “put humpty dumpty back together again,” says Dr. Quellmalz.

Simulations help students become systems thinkers by manipulating physical systems. In pilot programs WestEd sees students “making observations, inferring relationships, predicting outcomes, and
analyzing data about the ecosystem.”

Dr. Quellmalz believes, “A series of simulated assessments could serve as benchmark assessments and provide much richer information about what students
know about science systems.”

SimScientists was developed with federal grant funding. The WestEd team is considering a variety of strategies to expand access to the simulations as
supplemental instruction and assessment.

More science sims.
is a family of science sims from CU. At an ETS conference I saw Phet assignments running on ASSISTments with an Edmodo backchannel.

Connections Education
won a BESSIE for their virtual science labs and an EDDIE for virtual dissection. The virtual provider has
some great tools and demos online that include Virtual Rock Lab, Virtual Chemical Reactions Lab, Virtual Dissection:


The MIT Game Lab cranks out an amazing number and variety of sims including A Slower Speed of Light a game that helps students understand relativity.

Alan Gershenfeld recommends the following diverse list of games: Whyville, WolfQuest, Fold.it, Resilient Planet, Nobel Prize
games, River City, Evolution, Pontifex, Mind Rover , Immune Attack, MeChem, Sharkrunners, Quest Atlantis, Supercharged, Mad City Mystery, and Star Logo NG.

Over the weekend we also posted a list of 18 Universities using simulations and game-based

Students learn by doing. Add computer-based simulations to list of active learning strategies.

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The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.