Interactive Computer Model Examples

Personally I find Models and Simulations one of the most interesting topics on the ITGS syllabus, but also one of the hardest in terms of finding appropriate resources. Whilst we cover many different types of models in class - earthquake models, climate models, car crash models, search and rescue models, and so on - finding good, free, interactive resources that would really help ITGS students understand the topic is much harder. Luckily I recently came across the Concord Consortium. Their main STEM page has links to a wide range of computer models divided by discipline and age group, many of which could be very useful for ITGS teachers. One of my favourites is Energy2D.

Energy2D, as its name suggests, is an "Interactive Heat Transfer" simulation with a wide range of potential uses and an easy to use interface. The program includes numerous example configurations that allow you to quickly get started modelling heat transfer in common scenarios. The image below, for example, shows the solar heating of a roof on a house.

Computer model of solar heating on the roof of a house

Energy2D also allows more advanced users can 'draw' their own shapes using the Energy2D interface and then add 'heat' and sensors to model energy transfer. Thermal and optical properties of these shapes can easily be altered by right-clicking on them (students will likely need to research the conductivity of common materials before class, or perhaps this could be a chance to link with students' IB science courses). In the example below, each simple 'house' has a circular heat source at the centre and two thermometers - one in the room and one above the roof. Although they look the same, the ceiling for the house on the left is made of a material with a much higher thermal conductivity. The result of this can easily be seen in the model as 'heat' escapes from the ceiling of the second house. The temperature inside the second house is also several degrees lower than the first.

Computer model: two boxes with different thermal properties

Even with a simple setup like this, students could examine the effect of different materials or construction methods (insulation, different shaped roofs) quite easily. The simulator can also be configured to include sunlight and day-night cycles, so students can seek a design that is both cool during the summer and warm during the winter. With a little thought, it might be possible to link this to a real world experiment - for example, by modelling a school building and then using data logging equipment (data logging is also part of the ITGS syllabus) to compare actual results with the model's predictions. This could leave to an interesting discussion of any differences and the limitations of computer models and simulations.

In addition to the simple examples shown here, Energy2D also has preset examples for particles, radiation, fluid dynamics and several other scenarios. The program is a Java application meaning it can be downloaded and used on all major desktop operating systems (mobile versions are promised soon). The same site also hosts a 3D version of the model which looks somewhat more complicated and is something I need to check out in the near future.

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4 More TED Talks for the ITGS classroom

All Your Devices Can Be Hacked
This extremely interesting talk discusses the security vulnerabilities in many modern devices that feature wireless networks, including implanted medical devices, car networks, police radios, and voting machines. The attacks described in the video, including disabling pacemaker devices and taking over control of a car, have all been successfully executed as proofs of concepts - some great fodder for class discussion which links to many areas of the ITGS syllabus.

The Curly Fry Conundrum: Why social media likes say more than you might think
"Likes" on social media sites like Facebook may reveal a lot more about you than you think, including providing the ability to predict characteristics that have nothing to do with the pages you view. Links to many areas of the ITGS syllabus including databases and the Internet.

Why Privacy Matters
Alessandro Acquisti presents a talk that reveals what exactly can be done with your public social media data when it is combined with facial recognition software and AI routines...

Your phone company is watching
Malte Spitz discusses the collection and retention of mobile phone data. The talk links to the databases and the Politics and Government area of the ITGS syllabus and features some great visualisations that show how large amounts of data can be combined to build up patterns about people's lives. Where do people live? Where do they sleep? Are they having an affair? All of these and more can be predicted from captured call data.

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ITGS Project: Criterion C - Schedule

Criterion C - Project Schedule - should detail all work on the project throughout the course of the internal assessment. It should include details of each significant event, the follow-up action you will take, the date the work was completed, and the criterion to which it relates. Most criteria in the project will have multiple entries in the schedule as work on them will take some time.

Note that because the schedule is criterion C (rather than A), your first task will be to create entries relating to me first introducing the ITGS project to the class, and the work you have done so far on criteria A and B. After that you should keep criterion C up to date as you progress.

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ITGS Project: Criterion B - Analysis

Criterion B, Analysis, is a key part of the ITGS project as it involves fully documenting the needs of the client and the requirements for any solution that will solve his / her problem. Criterion B consists of several parts, most of which can be written as bullet points. The sections are:

Proposed solution: after listing the various solutions you considered (which do not need to be IT-based solutions), you indicate the solution you have chosen.
Requirements specification: here you indicate the requirements that the solution must need, including inputs, outputs, and security requirements. In some cases it is a good idea to split the input requirements into two: the data that are input by you, the student, during the creation of the product, and the data entered by the client or user during use. In the same way, there may be different hardware and software requirements for developing the product compared to using it (for example, you will need web development software to create a website but not to host it).
Specific Performance Criteria: these are clear, specific bullet points which indicate the things your product must do in order to be considered a 'success'. You will assess yourself against these criteria in Criterion F, so it is essential to get them correct. Precision is vital: criteria must be specific and measurable. For example 'the website must be attractive' is hard to measure (it is subjective), whereas 'the website must have a consistent look and feel on all pages' can easily be measured.
Justification of Chosen Solution: here you write a short piece explaining why your chosen solution is the best solution. You should make clear reference to the client's problems at all times. You can also say why other solutions are weaker (why they don't solve the client's problems) and make reference to available tools and resources (for example, if you are familiar with Microsoft Access and have the skills to use it, that can be used as part of the justification).

In each part of this criterion, clarity and precision of language is essential. This is especially true in the Specific Performance Criteria, which you will use in Criterion F to assess the success of your final product. Mistakes or omissions in the analysis will only come back to bite you later as you try to design and implement your chosen product.

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How to Detect a Phishing Email

Recently we have been studying computer security in class (chapter 5 of my textbook), and one of the topics we have covered is spam and phishing. 'Good' (if that is the right word) phishing emails can be difficult to detect even for security-savvy users, so it is no wonder many people fall victim to them, handing over personal details that can leave them vulnerable to financial fraud and identity theft.

One such example arrived in my inbox this morning. Google correctly directed it straight into my spam folder, but for the purpose of this post I took it out again!

Phishing email
A pretty convincing phishing email from 'Barclays'

The email is a pretty good imitation of an email from Barclays bank, and includes several features that could easily fool a novice user (and some experienced users):
  • The sender's address of 
  • Barclays' logo is included
  • The link URL apparently goes to
  • The link starts with https, suggesting the connection is secure (this is a good time to review the difference between security and authentication.
  • There is an official-looking footer including addresses and some legal jargon
  • The spelling and grammar are correct, which is quite unusual for spam and phishing emails
  • The subject message is quite worrying - my account has apparently been blocked, which means I need to act quickly!

So, how do I know this is a phishing attempt? This email has a few classic signs:
  • The urgent, worrying subject is a classic attempt to get the reader to act before they think
  • The generic greeting ('Valued customer') signifies the sender does not know my name. My bank should know my name, and emails can easily be personalised by them
  • Banks never send requests for personal data or passwords through the Internet. Ever.
  • The Barclays logo looks a little low quality - perhaps stretched a bit

So what about the sender and the link? Email sender addresses are easily faked, so the fact that this email appears to come from Barclays is totally irrelevant. As for the link, the link text is totally irrelevant: after all, I could have a link called click here for fluffy bunnies which takes you to the (real) Barclays bank. Before clicking on any link in an email you should always hover the mouse over the status bar to see where the link will take you. In this case, we see:

Browser status bar
The status bar contains the link's true destination

Ah-ha! The real URL. Definitely not related to Barclays bank! Finally, the most important piece of evidence for me: I don't use Barclays bank!

What happens if you visit a phishing site?
I must admit, after taking a few security precautions, I did click the link (Disclaimer: as a rule, don't do this). Immediately Firefox's phishing protection filter warned me that this site had been reported as malicious, but after ignoring that warning (don't do that, either) I was redirected to a site in Hungary (.hu) which was an 'excellent' reproduction of the official Barclays website. In fact, looking at the source code of the site they appeared to simply pull most of their HTML and CSS straight from Barclays server, which is why the site was such an accurate reproduction (this also had the side effect of showing "Contacting" in the browser status bar as the page loaded - very tricky indeed!).

If I had been foolish enough to put in my username and password to log in to the fake site, what would happen? Firstly, my username and password would be sent straight to these phishers. Then I would most likely be shown a fake "Incorrect password" error before probably being taken to the real Barclays bank page to try again. Most users would not notice the change of sites, and most of us enter our passwords incorrectly sometimes, so one failure would not alert us. If the fake site did not redirect to the real site, we might become suspicious when our details didn't work, and start to investigate more thoroughly. The phishers do not want that!

Fortunately this phishing site has now been reported and taken down and OpenDNS, the service my ISP use, also blocks it.

OpenDNS blocks phishing email

ITGS card game for revision
This ITGS card game is a great tool for revision at the end of topic units or at the end of the course in preparation for final exams. The basic idea is to present students with a random social / ethical issue, specific scenario, and IT system and have them discuss a relevant example from their studies or general knowledge that incorporates all three strands.

The playing cards are divided into the three strands of the ITGS triangle - Social and ethical significance, Specific scenarios, and IT Systems, with one card to represent each sub-topic. Wildcards (marked with a star) can be used to let the player pick any topic from that strand.

The game seems to work best, and is more balanced, if multiple copies of each strands' cards are printed. There are a couple of ways to pay, depending on how far through the ITGS course students are and the order the topics have been approached:
Two-strand game: This is more suitable for students who are only part-way through the ITGS course. Cards for only two of the strands are kept (for example, Strand 1 Social and Ethical Significance, and Strand 3 IT Systems). Students take one card from each pile and must describe a real life situation or example where the issue and IT system apply, and explain the related social impacts (in this case it could be in any specified scenario from strand 2)
Full game: This is more suitable for students who have almost finished the course. They must select one card from each of the three strands and explain a situation where the three all apply. For example, if drawing 1.1 Reliability and Integrity, 2.6 Politics and Government, and 3.2 Software, the student could talk about the software integrity issues that have plagued some US electronic voting machines, potentially throwing election results.

The game can be played by individuals or teams and there are various ways to score or pass cards to opposing teams to "steal" points if the original team cannot think of a relevant situation. You can download the document containing the card images here (Creative Commons licensed).

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ITGS Project: Criterion A - Initial Consultation and Investigation

Before completing any criteria in the internal assessment, you should ensure that you:
  • Review the marking criteria (on the class wiki)
  • Use the template document (on the class wiki)
  • Review the exemplars as reference, but obviously your work must be your own.

Criterion A  Initial investigation and initial consultation with client
Example ITGS website project
Example ITGS project
In many ways criterion A is the write-up of a lot of the planning material you have done so far: you already "know" who your client is, what their present situation is, and what problem they want solving. The goal now is to record this information and write it up. The best way to record this information is to perform a video interview with your client, which we will include on the DVD that we send to the examiner. This has the advantage of making the client's answers readily available to you later on for reference purposes, and the video of a real person helps assure the moderator (and me!) that your client is genuine.

Criterion A has two parts (two different documents):
Initial Consultation: This document should contain a record of your interview with your client. The best way I have found to do this is to make it a transcript of your video interview. Include the questions you asked the client and the answers they gave. You do not need to include every 'ummm' and 'ahhhh' that the client says, but their answers should be clearly and accurately typed up (and accurately translated if the interview was not in English). At the top it is a good idea to include details of the interview (name of interviewee, date, location, and so on). There is no word limit for this part.

Initial Investigation: This document should contain your write-up of the current situation. The recommended word limit for this section is 200-250 words. If we looking at the marking scheme you will see you need to:
  • Include a clear summary of the problem and identify the client (use their name, their job title or position, and their company name if relevant).
  • Explain the inadequacies of the current situation, and refer explicitly to the interview you performed. The best way to do this is to include short quotes from the interview, for example "As my client stated, the current system of paper records means that if a student loses their diary during the year, they have lost all of their evidence of attendance.”

You should also remember that criterion A is about the client and the current situation: it is not about solutions yet. Therefore, even if you have a possible solution in mind, you should not ask the client about it or start making any recommendations.

Writing Good Questions
For your initial consultation with your client you need to generate a series of questions about their current situation and the current problem. You need to choose the right time of question - open versus closed - and check carefully to make sure the client will understand them and give you the type of answer you desire.

Remember that a busy person may try to answer your questions as quickly and briefly as possible, so if you simply ask the closed question "Do you have any problems with your current system?" the answer you receive may well be a very unhelpful "Yes". Instead, a more open question such as "Could you please explain some of the problems you encounter with your current system?" may generate more useful and detailed answers. Below are some bad examples of questions I have seen in the last few years, with suggestions about how to improve. 

Bad Examples Comments
Do you have any problems with your current system? This is a closed question will could generate a very unhelpful 'yes' or 'no' answer.
Is your current system good? This is also a closed question. 'Good' is also rather vague and may mean different things to different people.
What do you want your new web site to include? At this stage you should not be mentioning specific solutions to your client - it suggests that you are not paying attention to their needs.

Criterion A is marked out of 3 and there is really no reason for any student to get less than full marks. Remember, if you are unable to clearly and accurately explain the client's problem at this stage, it is likely that you will be unable to design and create an appropriate solution, because you will not know which problem you are trying to solve. Equally, by getting a good idea of the problem from the interview, you can design and create a good, appropriate solution that will satisfy all of the ITGS project criteria.

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ITGS Internal Assessment Project: Introduction

Introduction to the ITGS Project
Example ITGS website project
Excellent web site project
This week in class I will introduce the ITGS internal assessment (IA), explain the requirements and provide good and bad examples of ITGS projects. The ITGS IA is worth 20% for Higher Level students and 30% for Standard Level students, so it is a significant part of your final grade and a good opportunity to gain a lot of marks if done well.

The project involves developing an IT based solution to a real problem faced by a real client. The client and their problem will be the focus of the first few lessons dealing with the project: we are not thinking about solutions right now.

Example Projects
Example ITGS DTP project
A DTP project which scored a 7
In the past ABC students have created some excellent ITGS projects, many of which have scored IB grade 6s and 7s. Examples include websites to help local churches promote their activities; databases designed to help local clubs manage their resources, and professional brochures created using desktop publishing (DTP) software to help a business promote its products. You can see examples of five ITGS products that received grade 7s on the ITGS textbook webpage.

Initial Project Ideas
The key point for any ITGS project is that it must be based on a real life client with a real life problem that can be solved by IT; you should not start by thinking of a solution and then looking for a client (for example, "I want to make a website, who needs one?"). This approach is likely to lead to disaster and many points are awarded in criteria A-F for appropriate planning and consultation with the client. Some key points about clients and problems are:
  • Clients should be over 18
  • Clients can be within school or out of school
  • The ITGS teacher cannot be your client
  • It does not matter if your client does not speak English
  • A solution should not already exist (e.g. redesigning an existing website is not in the spirit of the project)

Your task is to complete the project initial ideas document indicating three potential ideas for your ITGS project. Over the next few lessons we will work together to select the best project for you. Everybody should have a clear, detailed idea of:
Client: A real life person who can be easily and readily contacted. You will need to interview your client multiple times between now and December, so they need to be accessible.

Problem: You need a clear indication of the problem your client is facing. Often this requires some background knowledge or their business or organisation and some detail of how they perform related tasks at the moment. The more detail you have about the problem, the easier it will be to determine whether this has potential to be an ITGS project.

Potential solution(s): although we are not focusing on solutions right now, you should at least do a quick check to ensure that there is a potential IT-based solution to your client's problem.

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