Enabling students to understand and analyse contemporary issues in science and technology

Simulations and games

Why use simulations and games?
Games and simulations can help motivation because students are actively engaged and enjoying themselves. They encourage serious learning because they can help visualise difficult concepts or processes. They are also particularly effective as revision, with the competition factor improving concentration span. We like to be challenged and we also like to have fun, so why not combine the two.

Hints on using simulations and games

  • Be quite clear about the purpose of the activity, there must be a learning outcome
  • Make sure you have all the necessary materials to hand and ready to be given out to groups
  • Check that all groups understand the rules. However carefully prepared they are someone will misunderstand.
  • Don't control too tightly. Let the students feel in control of the game.
  • Allow plenty of time for debriefing after a simulation. It is important that students are clear about the parallels you want them to draw between the simulation and the real world.

Types of simulation and games:

  • Loop game: where cards are made with a particular word on it, and another card has the definition. Pupils read their word, while others look to see if they have the correct definition etc. This is a useful exercise at the start or the end of a topic.
  • Board game, like Monopoly where counters are sent round a course, with various scenarios played our, forfeits etc.
  • Top trumps: Making up a set of cards, for example on cell organelles, with details of their size, function, number in the cell etc.
  • Dominoes: Mitosis and Meiosis have a specific sequence, which can be tested using cards with pictures on them representing the stages, for students to organise in their small groups.
  • Computer simulations: There are many programmes on the market now that involve the learner in an interactive way. There are simulated labs, where you can alter the temperature or concentrations of reagents, and within seconds obtain a set of standard results. It would be good to have students carrying out full genetics practicals but simulations can produce the results in seconds, rather than weeks. Ecological processes can be modelled to show long term effects.
  • Visual representations: Making a DNA model is not as hard as it seems, and can be highly instructive. All that is required is some cardboard shapes, Velcro, and a set of instructions. It is worth remembering that James Watson and Francis Crick, in formulating their model of DNA used exactly the same techniques, except that Velcro had not been invented in 1953!
  • Another type of simulation is one that really is fun to do, and does not end up with anything that looks like the real thing, but shows the principles clearly.

Suggested activities:
1.2 Microbe sex
1.2 Spread of infectious diseases
1.7 Edible atoms
1.7 Radioactive dice
1.8 CHD risk game
1.9 Sickle cell disease and selection
1.10 What did Galileo see?
1.10 The truth game