Computer models and simulations is one of the ITGS topics which benefits the most from interactive examples. Students understand the nature of models, variables, and processes much more rapidly if they can ‘play’ with a few example models. They also get to understand the potential limitations of computer models quite quickly. This is especially true if the model covers a topic with which they are familiar. Very quickly students will start to point out that certain factors are missing, that processes have been simplified, or that certain aspects of life are hard to model using mathematics.
Recently I discovered Gizmos, which is packed with interactive models and simulations for science and maths. These cover a range of topics from US grade 5 to grade 12, so most of them should be accessible to ITGS students even if they don’t study the subject at IB level. Each simulation allows variables to changed interactively, with the results changing in real time.
A variety of environmental simulations includes forest ecosystem, rabbit population, and the food chain. These in particular are useful to start discussions about how we can mathematically model concepts such as population growth and animal behaviour. The disease spread model is another good example for this.
These models and simulations could be integrated into the classroom in several ways. One idea is to have students make predictions about outcomes using their wider knowledge. They could then test these against the results from the model.I t might even be possible to perform tests in real, so this might be quite difficult in many cases. The reasons for any discrepancies between the models and actual results would make useful discussion points.
Examples such as the greenhouse effect model or the orbital model help answer the question ‘why use computer models?’.
You can view the whole range of interactive simulations here. The science simulations are more likely to be of use for ITGS students, but the maths ones are worth checking too. An account is required for more than 5 minutes of use, but is then free for 30 days.
You can also have some fun with the trebuchet model…