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Only the most auditory learners will learn best by sitting and listening to a teacher lecture on a topic. Today, multimedia classrooms offer learners more ways to gather information than simply listening to an instructor. But multimedia-infused teaching truly taps into greater teaching potential through online classroom simulation games, which are recreations of real-world activities. Constructivists say that the best way to learn is by doing, but teachers know that many things aren’t practical or even possible in the classroom. But anything is possible in a simulation.
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Science can be a difficult subject for students to understand. This field of science often deals with interactions between objects, organisms and natural forces. Sometimes it is impossible to observe these interactions firsthand, but students can interact with online simulations from almost any computer.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) maintains a network of educational websites designed to use interactively in classrooms, but they are available to anyone, in any country, at no cost. The Bitesize website is especially interactive. Its KS2 Science section has simple simulations regarding electricity, forces and motion and other physical processes. It is designed for students from about second to fifth grade.
There are a lot of opportunities for older students, as well. The University of Colorado at Boulder hosts a huge variety of scientific simulations designed for high school and college students at its PhET website.
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Simulations in math may seem odd at first, but students can have a lot of difficulty understanding, what seem like abstract rules and procedures in math. Putting math into practical situations that students can relate to is a great way to make these ideas more concrete. PhEt also offers multiple math simulations for older students. Younger students can benefit from math simulations also. The MegaPenny Project is a great example. It helps students literally visualize large numbers by comparing large amounts of pennies to physical objects. A simple web search will immediately reveal countless other math simulations.
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Social Studies Simulations may are important because Social Studies often deals with events from a past much different that students can envision. The game, Oregon Trail, may be the best known Social Studies Simulation of all time. History Globe’s Online Jamestown Adventure provides a similar experience, through a short simulation of founding the original Jamestown colony. There are other social studies simulations available at a cost, such as Real Lives. Educational Simulations, the company behind Real Lives claim that students can use it t accurately simulate the life of an inhabitant of any of 190 countries.
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This is not an exhaustive or even an extensive list of the simulations available online. The way you and your students use these online classroom simulation games depends on each particular simulation. You may assign them as independent work, homework, use them as a group in the computer lab or lead the class through a simulation on an interactive whiteboard.
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Source: author's own experience
Educational Simulations, http://www.educationalsimulations.com/products.html
The Jamestown Online Adventure, http://www.historyglobe.com/jamestown/
Phet Interactive Simulations, http://phet.colorado.edu/
The MegaPenny Project http://www.kokogiak.com/megapenny/1.asp