Science teachers have always been concerned about engaging students in the content of the subject that they teach. It is not uncommon 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 life. 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.
There are three sections in this chapter. The first section discusses inquiry-based instruction and how the use of a guided inquiry model is particularly suitable for using MODSIM as an instructional tool. The second section describes an undertaking of the Virginia Beach (Virginia) City Public Schools that used inquiry-based instruction with models and simulations. Finally, the third section contains example lessons using this approach.