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Simulation Activities

Description of Activity: Students take part in an online simulation activity. Following the activity, some assessment should be linked to verify student learning. A brief statement can be submitted by the students describing what they learned. For simulations that have numerical representations, a list of answers or a graph may be submitted. Student might also answer a discussion question about the simulation.

Appropriate Content Areas: Any. Often used in Mathematics, Physics, Biology, and Chemistry.

Examples: There are many more out there. These are links to the simulations, not lesson plans that use the simulations. 
arrow button Model Science Software (company selling simulation software such as ChemLab),
arrow button Physics Education Technology, Made possible by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation,
arrow button InterActivate, Shodor Education Foundation, Inc.,
arrow button Virtual Earthquake, Integrating Technology into Science Instruction webpages project,
arrow button McGraw Hill Higher Education (2005). Online Labs from Biology, 7th edition,

Goals & Objectives:

The primary goal of a simulation exercise to is to allow students to vicariously experience some phenomena. Following that experience, they develop knowledge about a given principle.


Some form of background knowledge is expected in order to adequately interpret the simulation taking place. Often, an exercise prior to the simulation will help to frame the experience.

Materials and Resources:

What needs to be prepared in advance by the teacher? - The simulation needs programmed, found, or purchases. Discussion or additional activities centered around the simulation need to be developed.

What does the student need to bring to the lesson? - Some software may be required to experience the simulation. Flash and Java are the most common used. Some may require stand alone software such as ChemLab.

Guiding Questions for this Activity:

The guiding questions for such an activity are often centered around process or the outcome of that process.

Typical Activity Outlines and Procedures:

During a unit of study, students are assigned a simulation to experience in order to further develop some concept. This simulation may be directed by the instructor and viewed by the student or entirely student led. During or after the simulation, students are assigned questions to answer concerning the experience.

Teaching Strategies:

  • Make sure that the students have the knowledge to interpret the simulation.
  • Provide students with scaffolding regarding what they expect to learn from the exercise. Key them into specific concepts they should pay attention to while experiencing the simulation.
  • Don't overdo simulations. While they are a wonderful learning tool, students will eventually need some actual experiences.


What accommodations may be needed for students with disabilities or other special needs? Many simulation softwares are not suitable to screen readers for the visually impaired. If sound is involved, the deaf will not hear them. Also, they can be difficult to access within an accessible browser. Accommodations or alternative activities may be necessary.

Bandwidth may be an issue over dialup. Some simulations may be presented on CD or DVD for local access.


Simulations should be presented after any necessary background information. They can be run independently by the student when ready, or they can be displayed by the instructor during a synchronous session. If a simulation takes more than 1 hour to complete, the student may lose interest.

Ideas for Activity Evaluation and Teacher Reflection:

How did the students like the lesson? End of semester evaluations should ask about the usefulness and learning accomplished through such activities.

Addtional questions to ask include: How was student learning verified? Were followup questions asked to verify retention of information? Were quiz or test questions linked to activities in the simulation? Did the simulation serve course or lesson objectives as well as other activities?

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