Modeling and Simulation Tools for Elementary and Middle School Science Instruction

Some Examples with Evaluations and Links

 

 

Physical Science --> Models of matter

Author/Publisher: Dr. Joseph Snir, School of Education, University of Haifa, Israel, In collaboration with Dr. Carol Smith, University of Massachusetts / Boston and Deborah Maclin and Lorraine Grosslight, ETC, Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

Website: none

Brief Description: The software simulates three laboratory experiments to help middle-school students gain a better grasp of the nature of matter.

Appropriate grade level: 6 - 8

Potential uses in curriculum:
1. As an aid to facilitate greater understanding of the nature of matter, and it’s macroscopic manifestations.
2. As a context for engaging students in scientific inquiry in which they also have an idea of the nature of scientific models and the process of modeling.
3. Provide a context for the kids to articulate their mental models about the nature of matter. And in case their mental models match with any of the software models, then the software can be used to test the predictive power of their mental models. And that would help students evaluate different models with respect to how good a job it did in explaining the phenomena.
4. Encouraging model building among students as a tool to understand nature.
5. Facilitate collaborative learning among students in the class.

Opportunities provided that are not available through other means:
The software provides excellent opportunities for students to not only choose their models for a phenomenon, but also to evaluate them in terms of their explanatory powers. Such a modeling opportunity though possible would be hard to match in ease and convenience through conventional means.

Open-endedness of the software: Limited.

Background knowledge needed:
1. How to follow simple computer instructions.
2. Thermal expansion of solids.
3. Solubility of miscible liquids.
4. Chemical reactions.

Technology needed: PC. Works on a Windows environment.

Scaffolding/teacher help needed:
Some teacher help may be needed in the beginning and through the lesson for: (a) For establishing the problem, i.e. convincing students why it is important to study the nature of matter; (b) Refreshing their understanding of the required background knowledge; (c) Help in understanding the nature of models in Physics, how modeling helps understand nature; (d) modeling and some bit of coaching about model making and how to use the software.
Ease of use: The software is pretty easy to learn and use.

How engaging is the software:
The choice of experiments, modeling and simulation opportunities provided in the software make the software quite engaging. The simplicity and elegance of the design further add to its appeal.

Quality of software design:
The simplicity and elegance of the design is appealing. The screen is uncluttered, and the user's attention is not diverted by less used distracting features contemporary commercial software seems so enamored of.

How does it address the Michigan Curricular Framework:
The software can be used to (partially) address –
1. Strand I, content standard 1;
2. Strand II, content standard 1;
3. Strand IV, content standard 1; at the middle school level.

Benefits:
1. Easy to understand experiments.
2. Easy to operate.
3. Uncluttered and free from distractions.
4. Has a clear and easy to understand sequence of experiment – model – predictions – matching of predictions with experimental results. This is a sequence that is often adopted for modeling natural phenomena.
5. A reasonably good modeling software for a subject area that is singularly difficult to understand.

Drawbacks:
1. The software apparently is to be used in conjunction with a video that shows actual demonstrations of the three experiments used in the software. However, the software doesn’t come equipped with supplementary curriculum and software guide that would have helped a teacher realize in reality the curricular intentions of the software designers. Thus the teacher is left alone to figure out the intent and purpose of the software and how best to use it in the class.
2. Can only operate on PC systems.

Click for a Screenshot