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The use of simulated activities in education is widely becoming recognized as an important tool in
schools. Schools are finding that activities that promote learning tend to meet the following criteria:

1. They are "real" or virtually real. They simulate some activity so well that real learning takes place. In
fact, the term "virtual reality" is now a widely recognized term and one whose implications are important to
education. Howard Rheingold's 1991 book Virtual Reality deals with the technology that "...creates the
completely convincing illusion that that one is immersed in a world that exists only inside a computer."
Rheingold details his tour through countless situations in which virtual reality is being explored -- from
NASA simulators to university experiments that explore the outer edges of simulating reality. Educators
are not known for having access to state of the art educational technology, but the principles of virtual
reality, applied appropriately, are within the grasp of most educators who are serious about the work they
do. Using the principles of virtual reality doesn't have to involve the headpieces and the 3-D glasses
described by Rheingold, but the concept of simulating reality far educational purposes is an important

2. They are "hands-on" so that students become participants, not just listeners or observers.

3. They are motivators. Student involvement in the activity is so great that interest in learning more about
the activity or the subject, matter of the activity develops.

4. They are age appropriate. Since simulations are designed, they can take into consideration
developmental age requirements.

5. They are inspirational. Student input is welcome and activities are designed to encourage students to
enhance the activity through their own ideas.

6. They are developmentally valid. Simulations take into account the developmental level of the students.

7. They are empowering. Students take on responsible roles, find ways to succeed, and develop problem-
solving tools as a result of the nativity.

The use of simulations puts the teacher into a new role -- a role that is the inevitable result of the
evolution of the role of the teacher in education. Most teachers recognize that their role is no longer that
of a presenter of information and that students are no longer sponges for facts

Types of Simulation


No props, no costumes, (but lots of preparation) … pretend to be a group you're not…

The group or meeting simulation is one of the easiest to develop. Without prop or costume, the group
simulates some activity. Simulations that use this approach simply ask the group (typically a school class)
to pretend to be something they are not and act as they believe that group would act. Simulations of this
type are actually common in classrooms. You've probably seen or heard about classes pretending to be
the Continental Congress, performing in a mock trial, or pretending to be a group of Oregon Trail travelers
meeting around the campfire.
At the simplest level, you just do it. Of course, preparation of the group enhances the simulation. Before
you can pretend to be a member of the Continental Congress, it helps to know a little - if not a lot - about
the Continental Congress. If you know who was there, you can have members of the group portray
individual characters. It's a fine thing to write a report about Edmund Rudolph of Virginia who wrote out
the first draft of the new Constitution, but it's much more significant educationally if you use that
information to more accurately portray him in a simulation of the Continental Congress. When you write a
report about Edmund Rudolph or anybody else, you learn something. When you portray Edmund Rudolph
or anybody else, you remember it forever.

Mock trials are a good example of a simple simulation using a group. The law firm of Anderson Kill &
Olick, P.C. does a mock trial related to the sinking of the Titanic for sons and daughters of their
employees. They provide a complete set of information and hold a simulated trial so that sons and
daughters can see the legal process at work in an interesting manner. Their web site at
http://www.andersonkill.com/titanic/home.htm provides plenty of great information. They don't show
pictures of their trial, but even without costumes, it would be an interesting way to teach via simulation.
Not only would you learn about the trial process, but you'd learn about the Titanic tragedy as well.

Of course, many legal firms hold simulated trials in order to prepare defendants for questioning and
increase comfort levels of attorneys. There are even companies that specialize in preparing legal firms for
trials via simulated legal proceedings.

Various states hold mock trials. One such program, co-sponsored by the Connecticut bar association,
provides high school and middle school students with the experiences of a mock trial. More information is
available at their web site: http://www.connix.com/~cclce/programs.html

Yet another example is the model United Nations. A group can simulate the activities of this organization
simply and easily. Preparation is important, perhaps, but props can be minimal. More information is
available on the U.N. website at http://www.un.org


These simulations require a special facility or maybe a few props -- from the modest to the sophisticated

Facility development

Simulations that require a little more preparation as far as facility and props go fall into this category.
Sometimes the facility is a simple one. A classroom can quickly be turned into a setting for a Continental
Congress meeting or a courtroom for a trial. Usually, an enormous amount of effort doesn't have to go
into preparing a setting for an educational simulation. Still, the more realistic the setting, the more likely
the participants are to "get involved" with what's happening. Having the proper furniture -- or furniture as
close to appropriate as possible -- makes the simulated courtroom trial that much more engaging for

Major airlines maintain permanent and very sophisticated simulation training facilities. It's just far too
costly and far too dangerous to train in sophisticated airliners for real. In a school setting, you're not likely
to build simulation devices quite that sophisticated, although the University School flight simulator --
constructed of plywood and salvaged parts -- is a unique example of a slightly more sophisticated
simulation device. It's not Boeing's 717-200 simulator pictured at the right, but it does provide a more
"realistic" feeling. You can see more of this simulator at http://www.us.edu/flight

You can create a simulation area as complex or as simple as your time and resources allow. Thankfully,
most students have good imaginations.
Costumes and Props

Even if you can't create the simulation area of your dreams, you can create the illusion well with props
and costumes. Although you'll probably have a most successful lesson if you simulate the Continental
Congress without costumes, it's easy to imagine how significant costuming can be. Younger students in
particular will enjoy wearing costumes. And again, the dramatic, the more realistic your simulated
educational activity happens to be, the more likely what you're teaching will be remembered.

Props are yet another way to create illusion. A student with a quill pen and nothing else becomes a
member of the Continental Congress. A student in a coat and tie becomes a lawyer in the simulated
courtroom. A student in the dress of a Nigerian diplomat becomes a Nigerian diplomat.

If your simulation is really important or will be repeated frequently, you may find that you can slowly build
a collection of props and costumes to use year after year. The great thing about simulations is that they
have a way of growing (and growing on you).


You need a computer...or computers... but these simulations can be amazing!

Virtual reality -- simple and complex

Your computer is a great source of simulated educational activities. Virtual Reality -- a term that implies all
things to all people -- is really another name for simulation. The term virtual reality implies to many people
a sophisticated setup with goggles and helmets and special gloves and an enclosed cybernetic
environment. There are such situations. So much basic and easy to use material is available for the
computer that no one need be afraid of virtual reality. There are three ways to use your computer for
simulation activities:

1. Run a simulation program on your computer.

It's amazing how really simple, yet amazingly effective this can be. There are so many computer
simulation programs (kids will call them games), that it's impossible to list them all. "Games" like Flight
Simulator (pictured to the right) are just one example of a simulation. Flight simulation on the computer is
so good that you could actually learn the ground school portion of what is required for a beginner's pilot's
license on the computer. And you'd probably be quite comfortable on your first flight as a student pilot.
There is quite a bit of educational shareware available as well.

2. Use simulations on the World Wide Web

There are many amazing simulations usable by teachers on the World Wide Web. A little searching and
you may very well find a simulation related to your teaching. Pictured above and to the right are screen
shots from the SMG2000 stock market simulation. More information is available on their web site at

I'll add more listings for Web based simulations in the near future.

3. Enhance simulations with computers

Many simulations you run can be enhanced with computers. You can display images and pictures on a
computer screen to add reality to many simulations. The picture at the right shows Flight Simulator
running on a big screen TV inside University School's flight simulator. You can see the yoke, but the
obvious point is that the computer adds realistic images. This is virtual reality. Simple, yes. Virtual reality
devices do not have to be complex.

Inexpensive Space Shuttle Simulators

This material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.
The terms "desktop simulation" and "tabletop simulation" are proprietary terms.

Although this information describes building a space shuttle simulation facility, the concepts apply to
developing ANY type of simulation.

There are many approaches to developing space shuttle simulators in the classroom that do not require
an extensive and permanent facility. In this section we will provide some methods for developing
classroom space shuttle simulators at little or no cost.

Teachers who intend to develop space shuttle simulators must be prepared to devote their classroom or a
portion of their classroom to the task. It's certainly possible to turn an entire classroom, temporarily, into a
space shuttle simulator and include the major areas of the space shuttle and a mission control area. One
advantage to turning an entire classroom into a shuttle simulator is that an entire class can be involved
simultaneously in a simulated mission. The major disadvantage is that one loses the realism of the size of
the space shuttle simulator. Most of the plans for shuttle simulators in this book are for simulators that
approximate the size of the real space shuttle. Not all students can go into the simulator at one time, but
over the course of time, every student can certainly have a turn.

Even if you can't build a permanent full size space shuttle simulator, you can give students a sense of the
size of the space shuttle. Using masking tape, tape the dimensions of the mid-deck living quarters to the
floor in some large room, Then, in another area, tape the complete dimensions of the shuttle to give
students an idea of its size. To give a sense of the compactness of the mid-deck living quarters, build its
walls out of cardboard.

For a really stable building use "tri-wall" cardboard, a special 3-ply reinforced cardboard available through
packaging companies. The result is a structure which students can walk into and develop a feel for the
compactness of the living quarters on board the
space shuttle. Since up to seven astronauts use this area, it is really limited. Putting students into the area
one at a time until you reach seven will give students a clear indication of how cramped the quarters really


In fact, simulations can be very simple. The concept of Desktop Simulation (c) provides a quick, yet
effective method for space shuttle simulation and can be used for other types of simulations. The major
premise of the concept is quite simply: using a desktop or tabletop, one can create a practical, usable
simulator. Here are the steps for developing a simulation of the space shuttle main controls of the flight

1. Obtain a number of foamboard panels. Any size around the dimensions of three feet by two feet is
appropriate. Larger or smaller sizes may be used depending on what is available. If foamboard is not
available, thick cardboard, reinforced poster board, or other strong material will do nicely.

2. Obtain or create supports for the foamboard or whatever material you are using. Typically, these are
triangular supports like picture frame supports. They can be purchased or made from scrap cardboard.
3. Mount the supports to the foamboard to create the freestanding panel or panels.

4. Mount photographs or pictures of controls that you have cut out from airplane or space magazines. If
you can buy space shuttle magazines or books and are willing to cut controls from them, you can have
more realistic controls.

5. Arrange the panels in a manner to your liking, but we suggest the presence of a video monitor in the
center of the arrangement. If you can include a computer monitor, all the better. The video monitor can
show views of the earth from space or any other
video which is appropriate to your simulation. The computer monitor (or monitors) can show computer
programs that simulate space shuttle activities.

6. The result is a workable space shuttle simulator on a tabletop. In another area of the room you could
do the same for a mission control area.

7. Enhancements of many types could be added to the simulator. If you can get several CB radios, you
can set up real radio communications between mission control and the space shuttle. If you can get short-
range radios with wearable headsets, you can give kids the real feel of being in a mission control area.

8. There are several alternate methods of producing panels for use in your simulator. Rather than cut
materials from books, you could have students draw the panels. This method increases student
involvement and permits custom design of your simulator or more control over reproducing the panels

9. For real sophistication, obtain some switches and lights or other surplus electronic equipment and
mount them into the panels. It's easy to cut holes in foamboard panels to allow for mounting of
equipment. The beauty of this method is that students actually have switches to throw and buttons to
push. For real authenticity, wire the switches to the light bulbs so that switches turn on lights. The
sophistication of your simulation can be simple and inexpensive or as complex as your resources permit.


The concept of Desktop Simulation (c) provides an inexpensive route to simulating activities in the
classroom. It's also a relatively quick way to develop a simulator. It's possible to go even farther, however.

One approach is to expand on the desktop simulation. By enclosing the area around the desktop, you
begin to give a feel of area. The space shuttle is, after all, a relatively small and enclosed area. The
feeling of being enclosed is really an important part of the simulation. When we do 24-hour missions, one
of our areas of concern is how students will react to closed-in conditions. So, you can make your
simulator as closed in as you want. The same foamboard or tri-wall cardboard can be used to make
simple partial walls or other panels related to the space shuttle flight deck. Obviously, you could have two
or three or more desks for various simulations of the shuttle flight deck. You might also have another area
for the mid- deck of the space shuttle and yet another area for mission control,

It is not too difficult to build a temporary or semi-permanent enclosed structure for space shuttle
simulation. The simplest structure is made of cardboard or cardboard boxes taped together. Even if your
cardboard space shuttle doesn't have a ceiling, an enclosed area that is roughly the dimensions of the
space shuttle flight deck adds enormously to the realism of the simulator. If you can get to the point of
adding a roof, so much the better. Remember that with any enclosed structure, you want to provide plenty
of ventilation and easy means of exiting. One of the best materials for cardboard construction is tri-wall
cardboard that is very thick and very strong.
An easy way to construct a real size space shuttle simulator is to utilize two existing walls and build a
frame for the remaining wall and ceiling from PVC pipe. Once you've constructed a PVC pipe frame, you
can line the framework with plastic material, For total realism, you can use white plastic so that even the
outside looks like the shuttle. By using the same plastic inside, you can inexpensively create a shuttle
flight deck that is realistic in size and appearance. A warning: be sure your structure won't collapse so
that no one is smothered in plastic. Provide plenty of ventilation. Tape in pieces of clear plastic far
windows. You can also use desks and tables as supports for computer and videotape monitors so that
you can recreate the electronics of the simulator as well.

Another simulated space activity using the above techniques is to have students design and build a space
station using large cardboard boxes and tubes. You can make your own tubes from rolled heavy paper or
make your "tubes" rectangular structures built from tri-wall or other heavy cardboard. Large tubes are also
available from carpeting stares. Design the "space station" so that students can crawl from place to place
through the tubes. As always, be sure you provide adequate ventilation at all points. Of course, all of
these techniques can be applied to the construction of moon vehicles, moon bases, interstellar
exploration ships, and bases on other planets. Our space shuttle simulator has been a Mars voyager and
an interplanetary explorer as well as a space shuttle.