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BBI 2007 Session 2

Paul Grobstein's picture


Being a Scientist/Explorer/Creator (Theory):
Living (and Learning/Teaching) in Virtuality


  • Science is a tool to help one become better at thinking for oneself, at using observations to make one's own stories that motivate new observations that motivate new stories that one shares with others.
  • Science education should help people become better at thinking for themselves at ongoing, shared, exploration and creation
  • Scientific statments are "stories", not "reality", since there are multiple interpretations of a given set of observations

Virtuality: the space between the real and the virtual

  • Observations are stories too
  • There are lots of useful things to learn from the virtual, developing the same skills one would otherwise as well as reaching new understandings
  • Students (and teachers) need to develop increased sophistication in working between the real and the virtual ... in virtuality
Play with The Game of Life, or work through Langton's Ant. Put your thoughts about it in the on-line forum below. Could you use an exhibit like these, or ideas from them, in your class? How would you need to present it? How does it help (or not help) you in thinking about science and science education?  How might it help (or not help) your students? If you have time, try out and write about another of Serendip's interactive experiences.


Diane OFee-Powers's picture

virtual games

I do plan to use the games in my classroom because it is a good way to teach the kids to pay attention to what they see. I really like the way Paul introduced the ambigous photos, I think its a good intro to teaching observations,interpretations stories ect. I would like to use The Game of Life to teach the importance of following driections and patterns. I would also like the kids to play the ant game, again to practice using their observation skills, use thier observations to interpret what they are seeeing and to figure out what the story is! These activiies are a fun way to teach kids how to think!
Paul Grobstein's picture

benefits(?) of tranactionalism in education - bbi07 session 2

Reminder to myself (and any one else interested): Given that we are all living in "virtuality" (ie that a given set of observations will inevitably lead to different "stories" in different people), an "interactive" form of education becomes not only politically correct or "nice" but essential. One cannot know what others will take/see from what one has said except by asking them, engaging them in conversation. And that "interactive" process in turn creates a vulnerability in oneself to the possibility that what someone else has heard/seen alters one's own understanding ("story"). One can see that vulnerability either as a price to be paid for being an effective teacher or as a benefit to be gained. My inclination, of course, is to the latter, to enjoy (rather than fear) the possibility that a student's "story" resulting from a given set of observations will challenge/modify one's own.
Robert McCormick's picture

7/9/07 pm The ant

I love the ant and the message it seems to be delivering to me-I think I get some of it! It is amazing that a seemingly random pattern can quickly become a pattern, if even for a short amount of time.  But in the big picture, I wonder were this is leading to in our discussion of the brain? How are the ant’s behavior and the brain related? I have a feeling in more than one way.

Or is the ant leading us to a nature vs. nurture discussion? Are our genes scripted/programmed to determine behavior and our characteristics? Or does our environment part-take in the process to determine our behavior?Or are we heading to a conversation of the big bang theory?  The statement from the Serendip site that “Quite sophisticated behavior can result from simple interactions of simple things” is a fascinating and intriguing one that has massive implications.  We will see.

And a final comment on the idea that science is an ongoing story.  Brain is a pattern driven processor, it seeks patterns, how it makes sense of the world, it functions on pattern recognition; it is how it sense of the world.  For example, everyone in a room feels uncomfortable when a person telling a story/joke misses the punch line to the story/joke.  The brain is constantly looking for the closing of the story.  It is why good writing start with the main idea followed by supporting details ending with summary/closing paragraph.  


joycetheriot's picture


Using computer models to illustrate outcomes can enrich students’ understanding. For example, if asked where an arrow will land if shot directly above a pick up truck traveling 45mph; my students can predict based on their prior knowledge. Obviously, I can not pile the lot of them on a truck and conduct the experiment to have them find out what will happen. So usually I would draw a schematic and explain the answer to the students. They will take my word for the actual result or not. However to avoid any home experimentation I can have the students use a computer applet that gives them the ability to manipulate variables such as speed, angle, etc. and then run it as many times as they want. In this way, they’ve used technology as a tool to see the results for themselves. I can also add a discussion area to have students write their reactions and why they think this result has occurred. Their required notes give me information on each individual’s level of understanding, a win-win situation!
Cheryl Brown's picture

the ant and life

It was interesting observing the ant and how it overcame obstacles in its path, how it didn't allow anything to keep it from its purpose, even when it appeared to be boxed in. Sometimes we as humans need to be as singleminded in achieving our purpose. I can see using this in the classroom in talking about character traits. The Game of Life reminded me of my classroom seating arrangement and the change in dynamics that occurred whenever I changed the seating.
Angela Bryant's picture


The Game of life was interesting, but I thought that Langton Ants was a little more exciting to play. I would love for my students to play both games and observe them, because I know they would like the experience.I would present the games in a lesson where the students would work in pairs. I always thought that science education was a very interesting subject. It would help my students learn how to observe living animals and human behaviors.
Benjamin Zerante's picture

Virtuality Response

I think that this is an activity that students would definitely be engaged by. However, I think it would be really important to guide them through what they might be considering as take aways from the activity. Students, very generally speaking, are more engaged by technology and sometimes the point of what an instructor is trying to impart gets lost in the fun of playing around with the game or the ants. I definitely think that elements of the demonstrations or similar activities could be used in a modified way to introduce students to working in virtuality. The concept of virtuality also lends itself to an understanding of science as story if we accept that scientific observations are stories and thus lie somewhere within the spectrum of the real and the virtual. I think one of the keys to deciding how to present this is to think about the age group I would be instructing. While I think it can be adjusted to suit any age group the level of depth and discussion would differ from younger elementary to more advanced high school students. I speak mostly from experiences with younger elementary students or middle school students. I think inquiry on the part of the student is essential to learning, and these activities lend themselves very well to such a model of instruction.
Graham Phillips's picture

Afternoon Session, Day 1

What I loved about these games is that the slightest change in a pattern or the slightest change in order could have monumental, if not global affects on the members of the community or the community itself. It is really fascinating to watch this behavior in real time and to show students the pronounced effect they may have on their surroundings.
Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

virtual and real

I found the games to be very interesting because you can manipulate the oucomes for the different games. I especially liked the ant colony game and the chaos game. I will try them and see what happens. I feel the computer can help enhance the student's understanding that perception of the world around them is important. I like how you can manipulate the game of life and how stability can be established out of chaos.
Bruce Williamson's picture


The ant was amazing. I noticed that the roads were always diagonal one way or the other, never any other direction. Creating the road starting blocks turned out to be too difficult for me to get by trial. I think with enough experiments I could create starting conditions, but having seen them later I realized that I could not get them from the beginning of the finished road pattern. THe starting conditions are 'ruined' by the ant moving through them. I guess they might be found near the end of the road. I can see this and the Life game being used as arguments against a creator, since order is created here with only some rules. For the classroom, I can see that my ideas of order need to include the ideas of students and what they will do. Changing the rules for Langston's Ant to 2 steps forward expanded the action so that the view box did not show enough area for me to discover if the ant ever gained order or not. Looking for the broader/larger view, another lesson, might show that it does or it might not. Regards,
William Sgrillo's picture

W. Keith Sgrillo I have had

W. Keith Sgrillo I have had my students use these 2 games in the classroom before. I was trying to get the students to view them as models for exploration. One of the things I found interesting was when the students were done playing the games, the majority of the students ended up on the page that showed diagrams and explantions of how the eye is designed. I never really made any sort of connection to it. But today, when we were talking about random resulting in continuity, I thought it was interesting that random exploration of the site ended up with some level of organization. I specifically gave no instruction to the students other than "explore the serendip site only." Even though they got there at different times, most of the students were on that page by the end of their computer session. Next time, I think I will question the students independently as to why they stopped at this specific page on the site. »
Deidre Bennett's picture

I enjoyed watching Langton's

I enjoyed watching Langton's ant find his purpose. What lesson can be learned from this experience? For me I beleive that people's genes and environmnet effect their behavior. This can be explained to student's. One question that may be raised is what happens if the mouse steps were changed or increased, would he still find purpose.
Dalia Gorham's picture

Lagton's ant could be very

Lagton's ant could be very useful in a classroom as a concrete representation of all people having a purpose. It can be used to show our students that we may get lost and stumble through life at times but once we find our purpose we are able to stay focused and on task. We may come upon some roadblocks but we can find our purpose again.
Donna Morris's picture

reality vs virtual

this can be used in the classroom to help the students be more aware of what is real and what is not. It also will help to stimulate discussion .
Angela Morris's picture

real and virtual

Langstons ant shows that this ant has a purpose and even though you might have a barrier some kind of way it will finish its purpose. I could use this in my class to help my students become critical thinkers. They could make a hypothesis and then tes what they think by doing numerous trials. While observing the different trials they would be able to write their stories and continue through the process to see if their stories have changed. Then as a class they could compare stories and see if one story gets it less wrong.
Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Story telling

  • Story telling is a great way to get my students to jump start into mind mapping science ideas. I use it to generate ideas for new concepts that I want to use for the year. Story telling is an excellent way to get students to start talking but it is hard to get them to stop. I do enjoy telling stories and hearing stories.  Help!

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