One of our cohort members (Keith) initiated a teacherless session with John Harris, an educator who has a rich history in engaging students in simulation activities. John began the session with a very important point: Taking students from consumers of simulations to creators of simulations and as a result displaying higher order thinking. He led us on a journey through some projects that he had students perform. All were very exciting, but here are three that I found to be of particular interest.

1. Lego Robotics Challenge – http://www.lego.com/en-us/mindstorms/learn-to-program

Lego provides you with free software that you can complete various missions for your robot to complete. It is an easy interface to understand and allows users to create simple or complex movements for the robots. A robot pack provides users with sensors (colour, touch, beacons) and motors along with various lego bricks to create pre-designed robots or using your imagination to create your own.

What is interesting about this is that you can simulate a real world problem and use the lego to program solutions into your robots. This allows students to experience the process of problem-based learning and integrates computer programming and robot design into the experience.

2. Flight Simulation Challenge

In this challenge, students were asked to create a plane from a pre-shaped styrofoam glider that would be capable of climbing to an altitude of 1km and maintain a level flight path. Students were provided a POV (point of view) HD camera, wireless transmission system, and various servos that the operator could use to navigate the plane using real time video. The important aspect of this simulation to me was the concept of linking the challenge to other areas of curriculum including math (hight of flight based on ground object size from video) and social studies (geography-mapping).

3. Minecraft Gold Rush SImulation

Students were presented with a scenario: create a working immersive setting in minecraft from research on the gold rush. Students created constraints within the game in order to simulate what happened in a town during that era. The constraints placed on the simulation were important for this reason: When students build in Minecraft with a purpose it results in a simulation experience, but when they deviate from the prescribed outcomes it just degrades into playing the game and the education outcomes are lost.

Reflections

This type of project-based experiential learning is very exciting. It allows students to interact with subject matter in a more meaningful way than typical classroom education has been. Simulations also allow for the expression of learning in a way that deviates from the teacher-centric model to a teacher or student supported model where individuals may become the expert in a given area. It also allows students the opportunity to own their own learning and demonstrate that learning to a general population group rather than a closed (school) environment, which has implications for accountability as well as student buy-in.

I have a few concerns with some of the simulation experiences John presented, but are primarily logistical in nature.

  1. This seems to be a cost-prohibitive program to run. With more research and understanding of the equipment I am sure it can done at a reasonable expense, but with shrinking funding at most public institutions I am hard pressed to see how a program like this will be established in such a fashion as presented in this session.
  2. It is an intimidating undertaking. The expertise to at least feel comfortable with some of the fundamental programs can be a challenge. I feel comfortable with technology, but still feel intimidated with the thought of beginning a program like this. You would need someone with the requisite knowledge to begin a program of this nature.

Summary

It is a very exciting prospect to engage students in simulations. I would like to see if it would be possible to implement on a very basic level as the problem-solving aspect of what was presented makes so much sense for student success. I would like to know more about the programming of restrictions within Minecraft in order to keep students on task as I have begun using Minecraft in class and experience issues with off-task behaviour (Simulation deteriorating into game behaviour).

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