Visualizing Scientific Ideas With Computers (page 2)
So much of the scientific world is not easily visible to humans. The scale of scientific phenomena is too often so large or so small that we cannot observe those phenomena. From astronomy to atomic structures, science requires understanding dynamic visual relationships among things that are impossible to see. We briefly describe a couple of tools for visualizing atomic structures.
Imaging Molecules With Chemistry Visualization Tools
A number of visualization tools have been developed for the sciences, especially chemistry. Not only does the McSpartan program enable the learners to visualize molecules using five different representations (wire, ball and wire, tube, ball and spoke, and space filling), but it also enables the student to test different bonds and create ions and new molecules.
Students who engaged in discussions while building models benefited the most. Providing extra visualization, including colored drawing of experiments and ionic representations of reactions, facilitates concept acquisition in chemistry (Brandt, et al., 2001).
Another powerful chemistry visualization tool from the Concord Consortium (http://www.concord.org) is known as Molecular Workbench. Using Molecular Workbench, students create visual models of the interactions among atoms and molecules. The Workbench also provides learning activities to help clarify what is happening at the atomic level. This is especially effective for representing molecular problems.
Visualizing Geography With Geographic Information Systems
Richard Audet and Gail Ludwig (2000) have written a wonderful book, GIS in Schools, in which they describe how geographic information systems (GIS) can be used to engage students in authentic problem solving. GIS is a system for storing, retrieving, displaying, analyzing, and manipulating geographic data. It is an excellent way to support students’ spatial thinking, and geospatial data are widely available. ESRI is a major designer and developer of GIS technology (http://www.esri.com/). Using GIS requires a relatively fast computer with lots of available storage that can connect to large geographic databases that contain vast amounts of spatial databases related to population, land use, precipitation, vegetation, and other physical geography. GIS software enables students to query those databases to construct maps, create charts and tables to summarize data, and formulate specialized searches. Additionally, schools may purchase ready-made maps from companies or acquire them from local, regional, or state authorities (e.g., http://education.usgs.gov/).
Effective use of GIS also requires adventurous teachers and students. Teachers must be willing to let their students go while solving potentially complex social and environmental problems. Students must also be willing to engage in solving complex and ill-structured problems without single correct answers. When they are engaged, students learn to think spatially. In their book, Audet and Ludwig describe a number of classrooms in which students have used GIS systems to solve some fascinating problems, such as the following:
- Students in Chelsea, Massachusetts, High School worked with the local fire department and the Environmental Protection Agency to design and react to a simulated toxic chemical spill by tracking the spill, rerouting traffic, and warning the public.
- Students in Perham, Minnesota, used GIS and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to help track newly reintroduced wolves into the Minnesota wilderness.
- Students in Raleigh, North Carolina, created a cultural anthropological view of the history of Raleigh by tracing annexations. They also created individual “life maps” showing the geographical progressions of individuals as they moved around the city. These students developed a new understanding of history.
- Students in Columbia, Missouri, investigate the economic impacts related to the concentration of businesses in the downtown area
Among the many Web sites that offer maps and database information that could be used in classrooms are the following:
- Map Maker from Nationalatlas.gov http://nationalatlas.gov/natlas/Natlasstart.asp
- American FactFinder from the U.S. Census http://factfinder.census.gov/home/saff/main.html?_langen
- National Geographic Map Machine http://plasma.nationalgeographic.com/mapmachine/
- Geography Network (from ESRI) http://www.geographynetwork.com/
- Seamless Data Distribution Delivery from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) http://seamless.usgs.gov/website/seamless/viewer.php
- Terraserver http://www.terraserver.com
Students may also search for different types of maps at Find A Map! at the USGS Map Databases at http://education.usgs.gov/common/map_databases.htm. Applications such as MapTap Atlas for PalmOS Mapping allow mapping to occur simultaneously with students’ work in the field. This program creates one’s choice of maps on a handheld, allowing maximum flexibility in fieldwork. http://www.mobilegeographics.com/maptap. Similar applications are offered through HandMap and Handango.
Google plays a major role in providing mapping information and tools to a broad segment of the population. Google Earth is a free 3-D interface to the planet that combines satellite imagery and maps with Google Search. Clicking on the Earth begins a slow zoom in until distinct features can be viewed. Layers allow many types of information to be displayed. Categories such as transportation, terrain, and borders allow users to view and interact with the map in multiple ways. Using the inexpensive Google Earth Plus, users can import GPS data from select GPS devices.
Other Google tools include SketchUp, a free, easy-to-learn 3-D modeling program that enables users to create 3-D models of buildings that can then be placed in Google Earth. Google Maps combines directions, maps, and satellite imagery for searching locations. For example, when 10 Market St., San Francisco, is entered and the zoom feature used, the exact building at that location is visible. A mobile version of Google Maps works with cell phones that have a data plan.
GISs are used primarily in conjunction with a computer, including a laptop computer in a field equipment kit giving students the means to apply GPS data to maps as they are being collected. GISs are progressively being integrated into mobile technologies (e.g., PDAs), permitting students new opportunities to utilize global positioning data.
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