Science Simulations

A computer simulation may be used in science class to create a model to try out a hypothesis or demonstrate a phenomenon that might otherwise be difficult, messy, or dangerous. Software such as Widget Workshop lets kids try experiments like finding out what will fall faster off the Empire State Building-an elephant, a baseball, or a feather. The great thing about Widget Workshop is that you can easily change the relevant height: drop an object from six feet up or from the top of Mt. Everest. You can also customize the height, change the object, or change the gravity to that of the earth, the moon, the sun, to see what effect that will have on the drop rate.

Even games such as Sierra's The Even More Incredicble Machine have a 'create your own' or free form segment that allows you to create machines using inventive parts. To familiarize yourself with the devices in the games, you can do the tutorials section and solve some of the Rube Goldberg-style puzzles. Then you can play with balls of every description, nails, bellows, trampolines, balloons, generators, pipe, pulleys and eye hooks, gears, light bulbs, candles, and even cannons to create various kinds of gadgets and realistic or fanciful machines. You can also change the gravity and air pressure factor. While many of the devices in this particular game are rather imaginative, the scientific principles behind them are real and can be used to create and tinker machines that can illustrate various scientific principles or theories.

Rolling balls, fallings objects, and swinging weights can all be simulated by children using Fun Physics from Knowledge Revolutions. Children draw objects on the screen, which act as they would in the real world. They have mass and velocity and subject themselves to the law of gravity. Fun Physics can be used to create on-screen experiments or animations of real-life events. The results of what children build can be saved as QuickTime movies and from there included in slide shows and presentations.

To simulate the world of lines, circles, triangles, and squares, Geometer's Sketchpad from Key Curriculum Press provides an electronic chalkboard onto which students draw their shapes. Then they can take measurements, which change as they move and resize the objects. This program's results can be saved as pictures, or printed on paper, and used to support assignments in math and science.

Using these simulations students can create working models to supplement science presentations, or puzzle through single homework questions about forces and motion or even math. They can also take a crack at creating futuristic machines to substantiate projects. Such assignments often crop up in both science and social studies classes dealing with the environment. In some cases the programs can also be used to brainstorm science projects or to present diagrams that illustrate the functions of machines past, present, or future. Given the limitations of the various Parts Bins, the program will not work for every problem or questions. For the mechanically minded, they are a great place to putter (for the not so mechanically minded), they offer an opportunity to discover how things work.

Websites (sites that let students explore the world of science)

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