The Participatory Simulations Project

Network-based Design for Systems Learning in Classrooms

Main Page, Goals & Deliverables, Project Team

Project Goals

During recent decades, there has been a recognition of the importance of understanding the behavior of dynamic systems: how systems of many interacting elements change and evolve over time and how global phenomena can arise from local interactions of these elements. New research projects on chaos, self-organization, adaptive systems, nonlinear dynamics, and artificial life are all part of this growing interest in systems dynamics. The interest has spread from the scientific community to popular culture, with the publication of general-interest books about research into dynamic systems (e.g., Gleick, 1987; Waldrop, 1992; Gell-Mann, 1994; Kelly, 1994; Roetzheim, 1994; Holland, 1995; Kauffman, 1995).

The study of dynamic systems is not just a new research tool or new area of study for scientists. The study of dynamic systems stands as a new form of literacy for all, a new way of describing, viewing, and symbolizing phenomena in the world. The language of the present mathematics and science curriculum employs static representations. Yet, our world is, of course, constantly changing. This disjunct between the world of dynamic experience and the world of static school representations stands as one source of student alienation from the current curriculum. The theoretical and computer-based tools arising out of the study of dynamic systems can describe and display the changing phenomena of science and the everyday world.

Project Deliverables

  1. A well-integrated package of networked functionality capable of supporting and analyzing the results of learning in HubNet.
  2. a collection of field-tested participatory simulations covering a range of mathematical and scientific topics.
  3. a suite of networked connections to traditional analytic tools (graphing, spreadsheet, etc.) and to powerful systems modeling tools (e.g., STELLA/ProSim and StarLogoT).
  4. a Java version of StarLogoT capable of supporting layers of network interaction focused primarily on the classroom but with extensions to intra-school and internet-based interactivity.
  5. fundamental research into using participatory simulations as ways into systems learning.
  6. a collection of activity design specifications for participatory simulations drawn from our experience that can help guide others in developing new activities.
  7. a collection of tools for programming HubNet that would allow the activities and models we develop to be extended or that would allow users to create new participatory simulations.

Research into dynamic systems touches on some of the deepest issues in science and philosophy, including order vs. chaos, randomness vs. determinacy, analysis vs. synthesis. At the same time, this new field has introduced new objects of study. These objects were barely conceivable before the development of systems analysis tools and barely renderable without computational media. These new media allow us to analyze not just laboratory-based phenomena but also connect strongly to many patterns and phenomena found in the everyday world.