Simulating the Nature of Science
[ eeps ]
5269 Miles Avenue, Oakland, CA 94618-1044
866.341.3377 voice, 866.879.7797 fax (toll-free)

The main thrust of this project is to deliver a web-based simulation in which students take on the roles of scientists.

Isn't this like a lot of other projects where students (for example) take on the role of a scientist in some controversy?

Not quite: here, the students are scientists writ large, opening up a new area of investigation, developing broad theories, designing and performing experiments, and (perhaps most important) writing journal articles in order to communicate with their fellow investigators. It's about the nature and practice of science, the overarching logic of the hypothesis embedded in a social whirl of collaboration and maybe a little competition.

And all this in not much class time. How is that possible? For one thing, we simplify and abstract the field of study, and greatly restrict what students can do. For example, journal articles in our prototype are really, really short.

One of our challenges will be to see how far we can push our prototype into delivering Actual Science Content without losing its elegance.

In one scenario we have been using a lot, for example, students study "critters" living on the surface of another planet. They watch the critters as they grow and breed, and draw conclusions about how environment and genetics determine their traits. This scenario is appropriate for students studying Mendelian genetics, of course, but it's also suitable for students just learning about making observations and drawing conclusions.

The most important thing, however, is that it's fun. Students seem to like studying the environments we have set up, and they really love publishing in the journal. We have tried our prototype with teachers and with real live students in a variety of settings.

Here is a part of the original proposal to NSF.

Here is a poster from the 2005 Summer AAPT annual meeting that has student work as well as more elaborate descriptions of the project. (pdf, 36 by 48 inches, about 600K)

We're not sure yet how this would work, but if you're interested in participating,

We are now engaged in an SBIR "Phase II" project, which will run until the end of 2008. The project will create a suite of products and services to make this technology generally available.

To accomplish this, we have created a new company, Big Time Science, to handle that grant.

If you're really brave, and don't care whether your stuff evaporates capriciously, you can even try it out at Let us know what you think and whether you want to use it with students! - Fathom (software) download site - Emporia State drop-ball experiment - physics applets

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Award Number OII-0620590. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Last updated 24 February, 2008