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dents usable scientific knowledge that example) and in the specific content being
can be applied more readily to new situ- explored (such as the impact of soil qual-
ations. For the tree modeling project, ity and precipitation in a plant growth
students in our after-school program had model).
to measure a number of key factors such
as each tree’s species, size, health, and
Identifying with the scientific
growing condition, as each had a bearing
on its environmental impact. Similarly,
a StarLogo model of a garden can factor
Looking back to the interest and excite-
in growth rates and limiting factors such
ment that modeling encourages, stu-
as soil quality and precipitation. In each
dents can see science as an exciting and
case, useful knowledge is seen as the inte-
dynamic field, perhaps even one that they
gration of related facts, not a collection to
want to pursue further. given documented
be stored for recall.
drops in science interest as students
get older, upper elementary and middle
engaging in scientific explanation
school kids need all the support we can
and argument
give them to build their science identity.
Only some will pursue a career as a sci-
By comparing and contrasting the results entist, but many fields require at least
of different models, your class becomes a passing understanding, and everyone
a community of practice, engaging in needs science to be an informed citizen.
debates about the models themselves and “I’m not a science person” simply doesn’t
what it means practically. How accurate work in the twenty-first century.
is each model? Are there important fac- A century ago, John Dewey suggested
tors not being considered? As student that one of the fundamental challenges
teams explore prey-predator relationships of science education is that science itself
in Stella, they can debate the practical was too new to the subsoil of the human
impact of a species going extinct. Does it mind. While we have come a long way in
matter for our local ecosystem? building a science-based culture, the new
horizon of computationally-based science
Understanding the scientific
remains before us. We need to move con-
fidently forward, giving our students the
chance to see the science of their future.
As noted above, computationally-based
science is a new and rapidly expanding
aspect of doing science. even if we put
aside “science” classes that are really just
reading about science, there are still too
Places to start with models and simulations
many classrooms that have some activities
There are some good modeling tools available for schools,
happening but are mired in a rigid view
such as CITYgreen from American Forests (http://www
of science as being the “five steps” of the You may also find modeling tool kits
scientific method—working with models
like Star Logo ( or Stella (http://
and simulations is one option for moving helpful, as they allow students to
actually create their models once they have gained experi-
ence with some examples that come with the software. A
engaging in scientific practices
third avenue to consider is to work with your students to
using the tools and language of critique models implicit in the resources you already use.
Several years ago my class of fourth graders had a very
thoughtful critique of the underlying model of the Oregon
As your students work with authentic sci-
Trail game, both in its treatment of native people and its
ence tools like models and simulations,
allowance of hunting well past what a person needed with
they will be called on to use the language
little in the way of ecological consequences.
of science, both in the processes (look-
ing at measurement and variables, for
© synergy learning • 800-769-6199 • January/February 2010 Connect • Page 17
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