Science and Simulation Packages Reveal How the World Works
Science and technology are, by definition, interrelated. It's therefore not surprising that a wide variety of technological tools are available to instruct and apply science in the classroom. These products, whether CD-ROMs or robots, help students observe, study and experiment to gain a better understanding of the world in which they live. Many multimedia packages motivate learners by taking them to distant places-from the depths of the ocean to the outer limits of the solar system-or inside their own bodies. In fact, today's media-savvy students almost demand a multi-sensory approach to science that informs and entertains. Not only are most scientific textbooks boring, they fail to keep pace with the rapid changes taking place in the subject matter. In a national survey of science educators by Discover magazine, over 75% of respondents said they use more than one type of supplementary material to enhance or replace textbooks, including magazines, videodiscs and the Internet. Luckily for educators, a host of new products have been released (and existing packages improved) to provide in-depth, engaging scientific information to students of all ages. This article surveys science and simulation products for all grade levels, beginning with elementary school and moving to college and beyond. For a complete listing of available programs, readers should request a catalog from companies in the directory. Satisfying Kids' Curiosity Young children have a natural curiosity about the world around them. Sammy's Science House from Edmark introduces preK-2nd grade students to science by teaching them about plants, animals, seasons and weather. Five activities stress the fundamental skills of observation, classification, comparison and sequencing. School versions include a teacher's guide with activity sheets, toll-free technical support and a lifetime disk warranty. Instructors will want to select a science package that has been thoroughly field-tested to assure accuracy. Developed at Cornell University, Project LEAP (Learning about Ecology, Animals and Plants) was tested and recommended by more than 60 teachers in the Northeast. Besides K-2 classroom use, LEAP suits after-school programs and clubs. Despite the explosive growth of CD-ROMs, the videodisc remains a popular medium in science education, mainly because of its ability to deliver flawless full-motion video to large TV monitors. Newton's Apple Multimedia Collection from National Geographic comprises two videodiscs for grades 5-12, Physical Sciences and Life Sciences, based on the Emmy-award winning public television show. Optical Data Corp.'s Windows on Science, meanwhile, is a complete science curriculum designed to be used in a full-year science program for kindergarten through intermediate grades. Update, a yearly videodisc magazine, keeps the content current. In a three-year study, researchers at the University of California at Irvine found that using Windows on Science resulted in improved attitudes toward science and higher achievement, among both boys and girls and among students from diverse backgrounds. Also from Optical Data, the Minorities in Science videodisc (for grades 4-10) profiles women and minorities who have made significant contributions in science, math, engineering and technology. A companion CD-ROM lists nearly 500 scientists and teachers from across the U.S. who have agreed to serve as student mentors. Many other packages span multiple grade levels, allowing them to be shared among numerous instructors in any given school. Widget Workshop from Maxis lets kids ages 8-12 build original inventions, conduct wacky or realistic experiments, or tackle and solve pre-built puzzles. "The computer offers a fun setting for kids to explore the basic principles of science and conduct experiments that would otherwise be too dangerous or costly," says Maxis President Sam Poole. An increasing number of science titles foster home-school connections by suggesting hands-on homework assignments. The second release in Science for Kids' Adventures with OSLO series, World of Water examines the role water plays in sustaining life on our planet. Available in multiple languages, the CD-ROM details experiments that can be done in the classroom or at home. In addition, the firm has produced a free preview CD-ROM covering their three product lines for K-8 science. Crossing Disciplines While some science packages focus on a very specific subject, such as astronomy, others cross disciplinary boundaries, encompassing history, math and more. For grades 5-12, The Learning Team's Culture & Technology reveals how science spawns technological advances that impact a society's culture and customs. The CD-ROM combines eight important curricula, including geography, human sciences, and people and technology. All lessons were extensively field tested over a 15-year period. Similarly, the Minds-On Science videodisc series from Tom Snyder Productions draws upon the tremendous resources of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History to build connections between science, history and human life. As with mathematics, recent science titles tend to emphasize conceptual understanding of the subject rather than mastery of isolated skills. Edunetics' Rediscover Science, for grades 6-12, provides laboratory experiments, printable activities, reading and writing lessons, and multiple choice checkpoints. Scope and Sequence, sold separately, is a network-based system for planning, management and delivery of the courseware. Videodiscovery's first CD-ROM program, Science Sleuths invites middle and high school students to use an interactive science lab and video clues to solve a range of entertaining science mysteries. Armed with raw data, students apply scientific principles and practice research skills to confront problems involving biology, chemistry, ecology and physics. Many programs boast that they relate the science students learn in school to their everyday lives. Ec'Expert: Fuel Site Quandary from Texas Learning Technology Group simulates the many decisions necessary to locate a fuel storage facility in a fictitious community. Working in small groups, students are asked to make oral presentations or submit written recommendations taking into account community economics, the political climate and the area's geology. While interdisciplinary packages are valuable, some instructors may wish to concentrate on a single subdiscipline or topic. Combining CD-ROMs, videodiscs, teaching materials and more, Concepts of Biology blends Holt, Rinehart and Winston's biology texts with the power and versa- tility of multimedia. Students enjoy immediate access to thousands of media images and resources, including video segments, concept maps, photo galleries and step-frame sequences. A free 30-day preview is available. Other notable K-12 packages for specific topics: • Environment & Nature. In Apple Computer's Earth Explorer, students can change the assumptions of environmental data in case studies and view the results, such as how various life expectancies would affect a country's population growth. Discover how birds fly, snakes slither, monkeys swing and horses trot with How Animals Move from The Discovery Channel Multimedia. The CD-ROM mixes video, text and diagrams to reveal the physical machinery behind animal locomotion. • Anatomy. The ADAM Scholar series from ADAM Software enhances all levels of anatomy instruction by allowing students to perform "virtual dissections" on the human body. Two intermediate packages for high school and college are ADAM Essentials and ADAM Standard. The firm has also co-developed specialized products with The Benjamin Cummings Publishing Co. ADAM Interactive Physiology, for example, dynamically presents topics relating to the cardiovascular system, muscles and the respiratory system. Mindscape's How Your Body Works offers a straight-talk approach to anatomical and physiological systems. The program illustrates how organ groups and body parts work, and promotes health awareness through information on leading disorders. And Major Educational Resources' Dissections presents step-by-step dissection techniques for six organisms: a frog, grasshopper, starfish, earthworm, perch and crayfish. The CD-ROM serves as a supplement to actual dissection or as a realistic alternative when hands-on examination is not possible. • Chemistry. Snowbird's Physical Chemistry laboratory has been completely rewritten to provide a mouse interface and 3D images of all apparatuses and chemicals. The simulated lab allows quantitative experiments with gas laws and gas equilibrium, acid base and redox titrations, electrochemical cells, heat effects of chemical reactions and more. For sophisticated chemistry applications, CAChe Scientific's GroupServer is a suite of applications that runs on a Silicon Graphics workstation or IBM RISC System/6000. Chemists may continue to work with a desktop system, while actual number crunching takes place at the remote GroupServer site. • Circuitry. Electronics Workbench Version 4 from Interactive Image Technologies is a mixed-mode simulation tool for creating and troubleshooting circuits. Version 4 offers four times the components, up to five times the simulation speed and ten times as many models as the previous release. Falcon Software's Electronics Laboratory Simulator lets students construct circuits on a "workbench," then analyze their functionality using simulations of a Hewlett Packard function generator, oscilloscope and digital multimeter. Probing for Answers A distinct set of products utilize sensors and probes to gather data from their surroundings, for subsequent analysis and review. AccuLab's SensorNet is a real-time computer-based science teaching system; starter lab packages for chemistry, physics, general science, biology/physiology and environmental studies contain all the necessary probes for common experiments in those subjects. Similarly, Team Labs' Personal Science Lab (PSL) product line includes probes that measure physical phenomena and software that provides real-time data acquisition and display. It supports the concept that students should "get straight to the science," rather than spend class time setting up equipment and performing repetitive calibrations. The system's modular design allows new functions and probes to be added as skills and needs change. Goldenrod Research's newest product, UltraLink is a working model of a satellite mapping system. It scans a classroom's terrain to determine shapes and elevations, which students interpret and analyze on their PC. With Science Instruments Biotechnology Program, students can study their heart, test their brain waves, and develop prints of their voice with hospital-like instrumentation. Finally, the LEGO DACTA Control System lets students build their own LEGO models and collect data from them with an IBM-compatible or Macintosh computer. Starter Packs contain cables, software, building blocks and sensors for exploring concepts such as linear motion, energy and generation of electricity. Looking Ahead As the 21st century approaches, science and simulation packages will no doubt evolve further to take advantage of the latest technologies. Two products in particular provide clues as to the direction such software may take in the near future. As part of Computer Curriculum Corp.'s new Multimedia Science Classroom (MMSC), students and teachers may access online resources and learning adventures as well as communicate through e-mail and shared bulletin boards. A resource binder ties MMSC lessons to online activities. Intended for math, engineering and science instructors, the PLUS Edition of Mathcad 6.0 from MathSoft exploits innovative animation technology for producing and viewing "movies" of live data and graphs. A unique facility embeds and follows hotlinks between Mathcad worksheets located on the World Wide Web and in Lotus Notes databases.
This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.