Today’s young people live in a world of immediate interaction. They text a friend, and immediately get texted back. They think of a song they want to hear, and find it instantly on Spotify or Pandora. More and more teachers are using technology in the classroom to enable this same kind of instant feedback.
For the past six years, Olivia Dachel has been using Knowledge Matters computer simulations to provide this same sense of immediacy in her business and information technology classes at Tomahawk High School in Tomahawk, Wisconsin.
Dachel says that, prior to bringing the simulation (sim) technology into her classroom, she taught using a combination of textbooks, workbooks, and project-based learning. She said the students enjoyed the class, but they weren’t getting the kind of self-paced, student-centered instruction she thought they deserved.
"It actually forces them to go back and look at the reading, learn the material, and apply the concepts. Students are free to work at their own pace and learn at their own pace, but they have to show that they have at least a basic grasp of the material."
Students in Dachel’s business class use the Knowledge Matters Virtual Business - Retailing simulation. The simulation provides students with reading assignments, then tests their academic vocabulary. It presents them with math problems, then tests their math skills. And it presents them with countless opportunities to engage in problem solving.
"The retailing sim might present the students with a scenario in which they need to rent 7,200 square feet of store space. The students calculate the minimum size store they need to rent. Based off of these dimensions, the sim shows 4 or 5 different options for them to choose. Or it might say, ‘You can only afford 13 dollars a square-foot. What is the largest store size that you’ll be able to afford?’"
The retail sim also enables Dachel’s students to run reports for their virtual business. If, for example, a student’s business doesn’t have enough inventory or isn’t getting the right margin on their products, the sim helps them figure out how to set up their business correctly.
For additional training in retail business concepts, students take turns managing the Tomahawk High school store. Using what they learned in the retail sim, they set up where the merchandise should be displayed, price their merchandise with the right margin so that they make a profit, and run sales and promotions.
Dachel says she can measure her students’ success simply by using the scoring inside the simulation interface. But what she really looks for is how her students apply that knowledge to the real world: how well they run the school store, how detailed their promotions and sales are, how well they set up the store layout and, of course, whether they are able to turn a profit.
"The real measure of success is each student’s ability to take what they learned in the sim and apply it to the world around them. Whether their future will be as an employee, a business owner, or a consumer, students will leave this class with a better understanding of how business really works."
Student-centered Learning: The most important benefit of Knowledge Matters simulations, Dachel says, is that it places responsibility for learning on individual students. "There is no passive learning when students are using a sim. They are responsible for setting their own pace. They have every opportunity to repeat each segment of the sim until they understand it and, in many cases, they can’t exit the sim until they’ve proven that they do."
Focus on Problem Solving: The simulations take the lessons that the students have read, studied, and been tested on and make them apply them to different situations. Rather than choosing from among multiple choices, students are presented with obstacles they must think hard to overcome.
"The sims create a competitive and engaging environment where students can try different ways to solve real-world business problems-and then see right away if they are successful. There’s just no way that a textbook can do that."
Flexibility: For home-bound medical students, for students who are absent, or traveling or playing in sports, being able to access the simulations via the Internet when they have time keeps these students from falling behind. Internet access also enables Dachel to monitor student progress even when the student can’t come to class for prolonged periods of time.
Dachel can also be flexible with her daily lessons. "If I have a special guest speaker coming in or if there’s some timely topic in the news, I can flip to a different simulation. When it’s Super Bowl time, I usually switch to the Virtual Business - Sports and Entertainment sim so students can get more insight into how these big events are put together."
Real-Time Student Monitoring: Dachel can use the Knowledge Matters interface to read reports that are generated about student progress. At a glance, she can see how many minutes a student spent on each simulation, reading assignment, or math assignment. She can see how much time each student has spent on each activity, as well as how they scored and how much progress they are making. "When we have simulation days, the students get very excited. I can see how engaged my students are. I can see their progress, I can see the problem solving taking place. And I can tell from the reports that my students are more engaged in their education and have a higher level of academic vocabulary comprehension. "
Teacher Freedom: Dachel says that one of the things she appreciates most about the simulations is that they simply give her more freedom to teach.