Transformative Applications in Education/NetLogo
Authored by Uri Wilensky in 1999, NetLogo is multi-agent progamming language and modeling environment for simulating natural and social phenomena. It is particularly well suited for modeling complex systems evolving over time.  NetLogo is designed based on the Logo programming language to be accessible for novices and high powered users alike. It has an extensive library of models across many content areas.
Introduction to NetLogo in the Social Studies and Earth Science Classroom
NetLogo is a simulation. A simulation is an abstraction or simplification of some real-life situation or process. In simulations, participants usually play a role that involves them in interactions with other people or with elements of the simulated environment. You can download the program by clicking on the following link: http://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/download.shtml The following sections describes NetLogo, how NetLogo might be utilized in both Social Studies and Earth Science, how NetLogo is a transformational application and some sample activities of NetLogo.
Learning about social studies is a complex endeavor, especially when investigating the evolution of societies. It may be very difficult for students to wrap their heads around the enormity of the concept. This is where NetLogo can help in providing a connection and clarification to the complexities of understanding and evaluating social studies. How can students decipher the complexities of social studies? How can past events teach students about the patterns of behavior?
The study of Earth Science includes the study of the atmosphere, oceans and biosphere, as well as the solid earth. Understanding these earth systems and the evolution of the planet often involves physics, chemistry and biology, among others. Concepts in these areas are often abstract and difficult for students to visualize. Because NetLogo is particularly suited to modeling complex systems over time, it offers a unique way to demonstrate various principles in these disciplines.
Description of Application
After downloading NetLogo onto your computer, you can start the program and select models that supplement the lesson you are teaching. Prior to activating one of the simulations, there are brief explanations for each simulation. After opening up one of the simulations, a new window surfaces with three tabs: Interface, Information, and Procedure. The Interface page presents the actual visual simulation of the desired program. The interface provides a setup where you can control and set the variables, the speed and provide user comments about the simulation. The Information page provides the logistical support for the simulation. The sections in this page are: What is it(simulation)?, how to use it?, things to notice, things to try, and extending the model. This is the salient part of NetLogo for the teacher because it provides background on how to properly use the simulation and ways to connect the simulation to the class lesson. The Interface page provides the pseudo html code that runs the simulation. You can change the code to fit your needs, such as changing the colors, symbols, and dimensions for the simulation.
NetLogo is transformational because it provides an avenue for teachers and students to discover authentic and dynamic ways of viewing science, social studies and social concepts through a simulated environment. In order to enhance the transformational potential, educators must relate the simulations from NetLogo to actual class lessons. Simulations are by design active. They are not a spectator sport. Simulations provide realistic practice with feedback in a realistic context. Most simulations include social interaction. The realistic component is able to provide students with meaningful learning. It is important in all simulation use that the students suggest and justify their predictions. The worst thing that you can do is to provide a procedural list of actions that students should complete in order to get the right answer. Let the students try out several options and fail. When an experiment fails, that is when real meaningful learning begins. Why? Simply because in order to get the result students desire, they have to analyze and be thoughtful in manipulating the simulation until they achieve the desired outcome. That is the essence of NetLogo.
Sharon Smaldino (2005) explains the advantages and limitations of using simulations in a classroom setting. The advantages are: Realism- the prime advantage of simulations is that they allow practice of real-world skills. Safe- Learners can practice risky activities without risking injury to themselves or to others. Simplified- Simulations are intended to capture the essential features of a situation. Smaldino (2005) also illustrates two limitations that pose hurdles for educators while using simulations. They are: Time Consuming- Learning how to effectively run and integrate the program may take time to perfect. Oversimplification- The concern is that a simulation might give students a false understanding of the real-life situation. Keeping the advantages and limitations in context, educators can find creative ways to enhance the advantages and create techniques that limit the disadvantages.
Integrating technology into the classroom is a skill that teachers must constantly practice, due to the ever changing nature of technology. As a simulation, NetLogo is very suitable for being integrated into social studies lessons. Instructional simulations are particularly well suited for the following: development of decision making skills, learning about social interaction and human relations, and training in complex skills that might otherwise be too hazardous or expensive in real-life settings. In conclusion, simulations provides students a laboratory to explore social studies issues that transcend traditional textbook use.
There is a model library file that contains sixteen social studies simulations. The simulations are: Aids, Altruism, Cooperation, El Farol, Ethnocentrism, Party, Rebellion, Rumor Mill, Scatter, Segregation, Simple Birth Rates, Team Assembly, Traffic Basic, Traffic Grid, Voting, and Wealth Distribution. There are many model simulations in the areas of biology, chemistry and physics and six specific to earth science. The earth science models are: Climate Change, Continental Divide, Erosion, Fire, Grand Canyon and Percolation.
http://jmvidal.cse.sc.edu/netlogomas/ -This site has multiple NetLogo models
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OijZ105J2eo -NetLogo tutorial on youtube
http://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo -NetLogo homepage
^ Jonassen, D., Howland, J., Marra, R.M. and Crismond, D. (2008). Meaningful Learning with Technology, 3rd Edition, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
^ Smaldino, S, Russell, J, Heinich, R, & Molenda, M (2005). Instructional technology and media for learning, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
^ Tisue, S., Wilensky, U. (2004) NetLogo: A Simple Environment for Modeling Complexity, Presented at the International Conference on Complex Systems, Boston, MA.