Interactive Computer Model Examples

Computer model for ITGS students

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
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 of heat radiation
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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