The use of simulations takes many forms, and simulations are used for a myriad of purposes.
When I was in 8th grade with Mr. Jensen, we did a simulation of city planning. I remember clearly how we had to propose laws to solve problems, and how the debate was structured to simulate that of a real city. Unlike a real city, however, there were few consequences if what we did was ineffective.
While teaching 9th Grade Modern World History my first year at Lee Jr High, I had the opportunity to use a WWII simulation with my honors class. This exercise consisted of a simulation of trench warfare, using the tables of the classroom as the trenches. Since it was an honors class, the students had actually done the reading, but it was hard for them to perceive the futility of trench warfare; this simulation was designed to show only that.
The classroom was arranged with tables facing each other, in 3 groups of 3 sets (see diagram). We stacked the chairs out of the way, and all students returned to their space with wadded up paper as ammunition (I would never have tried this with non-honors classes, by the way).
Students were informed that if they were to try to reach the other side of the classroom (I placed a marker on each of the far walls), but if they were hit they would have to return to their assigned beginning space (in this case, their assigned seats).
It took about 5 minutes to finish (again, honors students—they caught on quickly). Several tried going around the tables, only to be hit with paper from the side. Others tried going over. Same result, but many more hits. Finally, the papers stopped flying. The students looked at me and said “Mr. B, this is impossible. There is no way we can win.” In other words, they understood the futility: there is virtually no way to win, and lots of folks get hurt in the process. Perfect introduction to the term “war of attrition”.
While a simple example of simulations, this demonstrates their power: to introduce to students concepts that, while not necessarily difficult to understand, are potentially difficult to internalize, and which, by internalizing them, provide a much deeper basis in knowledge. My students later used those same ideas (futility, in this case) while discussing some of the other concepts in class, and questioned moves such as creation of the Maginot line, knowing as they did the futility of the trenches.
When I was student teaching at Channel Islands High School in Oxnard, I worked with a teacher (Mr. Gose, whose son, Dr. Gose, as an aside, was my department advisor). The 12th graders were working on a simulation of the Court system. A student was chosen as Judge (sitting together with Mr. Gose—Sorry, I can’t remember the proper legal term for it); other students played the roles of clerk, bailiff, attorneys, jury members, etc.
Goldilocks was on trial. Her preliminary hearing (not part of the simulation) had determined the charges to be: Unlawful Entry (house was unlocked), Petty Theft (Porridge), Destruction of Private Property (chair), Trespassing (staying in bedroom), and Leaving the Scene of a Crime (fleeing at the end).
All in all, it as a fascinating look into our judicial system. Jury members had to be chosen, the court had to operate smoothly (more or less), and students had to behave in a mature manner. Nothing like Judge Judy!
For many of the simulations I have seen, it is difficult to add technology. In the case of People v Goldilocks, technology could be added to make the pre-trial examinations more realistic and to make research of the roles various students are to take easier and more applicable. Otherwise, courts operate in real-time in the real world; adding technology adds to evidenciary proceedings but otherwise has little outcome.
The World War I exercise on Trench Warfare, might lend itself more toward technology, but seeing that Futility was the objective, it would still have a limited role. While Technology could be used to provide the background material to students, and to provide detailed examinations of specific topics (trench design, weaponry, casualty rates, etc.), since the stated purpose was to show the idea of stalemate, it is hard to believe that technology could make this any more efficient.
All in all, I think the example shows the power of simulations to enhance and guide thought to an mature, adult level. And, while several joined the armed services (peace was not discussed as an option. I don’t quite recall why), all understand that futility in any conflict makes for loss on all sides.
I have used various simulations at other times, usually by Interact (their stuff is Fantastic!), but not recently. For the record, the one above is the only one I designed on my own.
Simulations, then, are ways of taking content information and embedding them into situations which will allow the students to fully integrate and internalize the learning. The best designed simulations also allow students to generalize from their newly acquired and internalized knowledge into other situations. Examples include flight simulations that allow students to learn basic skills prior to actual flight, thus increasing safety and decreasing cost.
This article presents some of the first data I have seen regarding the effects of simulations. Simulations provide for connections to other settings. It also notes that the best simulations are measured in weeks, not days. Longer-term simulations result in more accurate and more applicable learning, which can be used across new data sets as need presents itself.
This article presents an analysis of drivers education simulation software. In this case, a particular piece of software (SIVAS) is presented in a research context. The goal of the software is to allow a teacher to model driving behaviors for students from multiple perspectives; for instance, the students see a particular driving example from the point of view of the driver, other drivers on the road, and from overhead. It is postulated that this will assist in the internalization of good driving habits by allowing students to see the consequences of their mistakes (in this case simulated) from multiple perspectives. The specified intent is to replace use of videos, as the flexibility this software provides allows for more in-depth learning.
· Garcia-Ros, Rafael, Loes Montoro, Pedro Valero, Tomas Martinez, and Salvador Bayarri. Designing a system for computer-assisted instruction in road education: A first evaluation. International Journal of Instructional Media. 1999, Vol. 26 Issue 4, p.403. [Available Online: http://0-search.epnet.com.eureka.lib.csus.edu:80/direct.asp?an=2512285&db=afh]