Simulations / Role Play

As a teaching tool, simulations gained popularity in training pilots and firefighters. Simulations are particularly useful when a real-life process takes too long (formation of fossils), is too dangerous (volcanic eruptions), is too expensive or inaccessible (forces experienced on a roller coaster), has safety-related issues (manufacturing processes) or may happen too quickly to study (chemical change). The technique can be a powerful motivator to promote students' learning of the concept. Computer simulations allow students to try things that would be impossible or very difficult to do in real life.

Simulations can facilitate students' thinking as they make and explore predictions and to identify patterns and relationships. Because simulation problem solving can impact the amount and quality of students' writing, communication skills, and interpersonal interactions, they are useful for ELL and students whose educational plan includes modifications. Students have fun while participating in worthwhile educational simulations.

In choosing a simulation program, one should consider several questions - is the simulation realistic? Is the simulation targeted to the developmental level of the student? Is there a good fit between the simulation and the reality it is representing? Is there more than one solution to the problem/challenge posed? Are the activities designed to encourage students to enhance the activity through their own ideas? Does the simulation provide any "hands-on" so that students become participants, not just listeners or observers? Does the simulation have realistic technology-related requirements? How will the use of the simulation enhance the learning (not just the fun) of the students? How will you assess this learning?

The use of simulations puts the teacher into a new role -- no longer that of a presenter of information. Simulations as a teaching tool require that teachers see their students as active constructors of their learning and no longer just as sponges for facts.

Index | Next: Hands-On/Minds-On Learning

Additional Resources

JOURNAL ARTICLES - To access most of these Journal Articles, you must be a student, faculty or staff member at an OhioLINK affiliated institution. Access to OhioLINK may be available to Ohioans through their local, public, or school libraries. Contact OPLIN, INFOhio, or your local library for more information.

Interactive Learning with Java Applets
The Science Teacher, Vol. 72, Issue: 8, November 2005, pp. 44-47.
By: Greg Corder

Science teachers face challenges that affect the quality of instruction. Tight budgets, limited resources, school schedules, and other obstacles limit students' opportunities to experience science that is visual and interactive. Incorporating web-based Java applets into science instruction offers a practical solution to these challenges, and allows students to hone critical thinking skills. When students interact with applets that complement or enrich the demonstration, students experience individual and interactive experiences that reinforce the "real" demonstration. Moreover, such experiences allow for recognition and discussion of the strength and weaknesses of using simulations in science. Figure 4, which includes websites with well-constructed applets, can help teachers get started.

Teaching for Conceptual Understanding
Science and Children, Vol. 42, Issue: 1, September 2004, pp. 28-32
By: Nam-Hwa Kang and Carrie Howren

A series of lessons were taught in a second-grade classroom to assist students' conceptual understanding of celestial motion. After assessing student misconceptions about space and the movement of planets and the Sun, the teacher engaged the students in role-playing, group work, and computer simulations. These teaching strategies were effective for enhancing students' conceptual understanding. Having students compare past and current ideas seemed to be the most critical part of the lesson. Revisiting their ideas allows students to connect new ideas to their existing knowledge and replace misconceptions with scientific ideas. It also informs the educator about the effectiveness of their teaching, by allowing them to see each student's growth in terms of correcting their misconceptions in many different forms, such as drawing and role-play.

Teaching Science to Students with Learning Differences
The Science Teacher, Vol. 74, Issue: 3, March 2007, pp. 24-27.
By: Marcee Steele

Recent legislation, such as No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act amendments of 1997 and 2004, emphasizes the importance of teaching students with mild disabilities in the general education classroom using the general curriculum. Consequently, students with learning problems take a variety of science courses, including biology, chemistry, and Earth science, that require complex cognitive skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, evaluating, analyzing, and interpreting data. Many of these students, in fact, are in college preparatory courses and tracks. Because of the emphasis on high-level thinking skills, science courses may be particularly challenging for students with learning problems. This article summarizes some common characteristics of students with learning problems who typically take high school science courses and presents modifications for instruction to help these students and their teachers experience success.

Games that Teach
Science Scope, Vol. 27, Issue: 8, May 2004 pp. 32-33.
By: Sharon Brendzel

Teachers spend a great deal of time trying to capture student interest because motivation is the beginning of learning. One effective way to do this is through the use of games in the classroom. Games can be used to introduce various presentation formats, improve comprehension through simulations, or review concepts. General suggestions for incorporating various types of games into lesson plans are provided.

Using Web-Based Simulations to Promote Inquiry
Science Scope, Vol. 30, Issue: 6, February 2007 pp. 36-42.
By: Mel Limson, Crystal Witzlib, and Robert A. Desharnais

It is widely accepted that inquiry-based curriculum programs have positive effects on cognitive achievement, process skills, and attitudes toward science (NRC 2000). Science teachers seek engaging, effective, and inquiry-based activities that are standards-aligned and convenient to implement in their classrooms. For many years, the web has provided teachers and students with a vast resource of factual information (some of it multimedia). More recently, websites have been developed where teachers can obtain effective inquiry-based tools for teaching science. We report on how one of these sites, the Virtual Courseware Project (, was used to engage students in an inquiry-based study of the principles of genetic inheritance.


A collection of popular and well-tested simulations, mostly focused on physical science concepts.
This site contains a variety of simulations for use in the social studies as well as the science class.

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