Interactive models and simulations are fantastic classroom tools, and a key part of the ITGS syllabus. Previously I have posted examples of climate and ecology models, various science simulations, and even a Lego robot simulator based on Lego Mindstorms.
Flowol is a simulation program that I use with my IB Computer Science students when teaching the Control HL topic. Although it involves using flowcharts, it also has use for ITGS students and is a good way of understanding the benefits of using software simulations.
Flowol comes with several built in scenarios (called ‘mimics’). These include different types of road crossings, a ferris wheel, a robot, and even two train sets. Using a series of simple flowchart symbols (input, output, decision, delay), students create a program to control the ‘hardware’ in the mimic. Once finished they can run the flowchart and see the results.
The image below shows Flowol’s user interface and a simple flowchart I created to control the warning lights at a road crossing. The lights can be seen in the (very 1980s!) image on the right hand side, with the current stage of the flowchart also shown.
The real benefit of Flowol in ITGS is to investigate the benefits of using simulations in the design of real world systems. For example, different settings for road and level crossings can be tried in order to find the optimal configuration. This ties in nicely with other examples of models and simulations that are available online.
Simulation software also raises the issue of reliability, since many of Flowol’s mimics are safety critical systems. Writing flowcharts to control a train or a ferris wheel highlights how careful designers must be to consider all possible cases.
Flowol has many great features that go beyond the basics I have introduced here. For example, it is possible (and easy) to have multiple threads running at the same time to control different aspects simultaneously (e.g. ferris wheel lights and wheel motion). Many of these features are more relevant to IB Computer Science, but I’ve found the features explained above very useful for ITGS.
Flowol is available from www.flowol.com. A 30 day free trial is available.