To the Teacher
Science teachers have always been concerned about engaging students in the content of the subject that they teach. It is very easy for students to see science as a complex, fact-driven field of study in which all of the basics have already been determined. Especially with the great advances in personal computers and technology in general over the past few years, it is easy for students to view traditional science courses as not relevant to their everyday lives. Teachers are always on the lookout for approaches that make instruction both relevant and enjoyable while at the same time maintaining academic rigor. One approach that is starting to gain traction in education is in the use of models and simulations (MODSIM) in the classroom.
MODSIM is a promising approach for several reasons. The first is that it allows instruction to be student-driven. Students can explore a model or simulation at their own pace and in a manner that makes sense to them. Another is that models and simulations today use state-of-the-art technology. It seems more “real” to the students because the models and simulations use the same types of technology that they use in other areas of their life—computers, Web-based programs, and gaming systems. Finally, using a MODSIM approach to study a phenomenon mirrors what happens in the world of science and engineering outside the classroom. Students can think and act like scientists and engineers as they explore for themselves how varying conditions affect a process or system without having to have the physical system available to them.
This chapter will examine some sample models and simulations using two different programs, Squeak and STELLA®. Each program represents a different approach to using MODSIM for instruction. Squeak is an animation-based program while STELLA is a mathematics modeling based software package. For each program there is background information for the instructor, activities for students, and an answer key. The student activities are written as pull-out sections from the other two sections.