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Simulation Explorer

By Sally Finley - Posted Jul 1, 2006
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Overall Rating:5 Stars
Ease of Use:A
Product Support:A

Company:  Tool Factory, Inc., 3336 Sunderland Hill Road, Sunderland, VT 05250. Phone: 800/375-6549; Fax: 802/375-6860; Internet:

Price: $59.95—single unit;  $179.85 —five-pack; $299.75—10-pack; $599.50—25-pack. Network site licenses are available.

Audience:  Ages 7-11.

Format:  CD-ROM: text, graphics, animation, sound.

Minimum System Requirements:

Windows systems: Pentium III, 500 MHz processor, 128 RAM, Windows 98, 800x600 screen resolution, sound card, and CD-ROM drive.

Macintosh systems: Power Mac G4, 256 MB RAM, MAC OS X, 800x600 screen resolution, and CD-ROM drive.

Description: Simulation Explorer consists of six science simulations presented at two levels of difficulty based on variables. Topics include Alien Plant, Braking Distances, Circuits, Pond Habitat, Throwing Snowballs, and Tooth Decay. Each simulation addresses national science standards.

Reviewer Comments:

Installation: The program is easy to install. Place the CD-ROM in the CD drive and click on the set-up icon. When installation is complete, click Finish to exit the set-up.

Adobe Acrobat Reader is needed to view the teacher support materials and worksheets. The main menu offers a link to install this program, if needed. Installation Rating: A

Content/Features: Six simulations provide students the opportunity to explore, change conditions, and observe the results of a scientific investigation. The simulated experiments examine plant growth, force and motion, circuits and conductors, and living things. In each simulation, students engage in predicting outcomes, problem solving, changing and controlling variables, and carrying out procedures.

Each experiment provides a set of variables, as well as rules to be followed in completing an investigation. The easier level offers two variables; the more difficult level offers three. A lock feature enables students to control one variable at a time.

When beginning an activity, introductory audio automatically plays to explain the controls and features. As students make changes and test different settings, the program keeps track of their progress and displays it in the Results screen.

Challenge questions guide learners through each simulation, making this software an ideal choice for an independent science center learning activity. The program includes word banks that extend appropriate vocabulary and spelling. The Print button enables the student to print the whole screen, a blank writing sheet for independent writing, and a Results table.

The Results feature stores all the tests conducted by the students for future viewing, analysis, and drawing conclusions. From the accumulated data recorded in this feature, the teacher can provide students with a variety of math activities, such as making charts and graphs.

Computer simulations enable students to learn science concepts that previously required a great deal of teacher time, materials, and preparation. In the circuit project, for example, students have onscreen access to a selection of materials to use as conductors. They can also choose the amount of power and the number of batteries for their circuit. Overloading the circuit causes the light to burn out. Using too few batteries produces a dim light.

At each level, PDF worksheets and extension sheets are provided; these can be printed out to assess or guide student learning. Clip art in JPEG format is available for each simulation and can be saved to other word processing programs.

A teacher information sheet describes each activity and the details of the rules and patterns of a simulation.

Classroom Applications: Simulation Explorer can be used by students in the classroom independently or at a science center. After conducting several investigations controlling the different variables, students can record the results in a science journal or by making a poster using the clip art and Results Table feature.

The teacher can present an investigation to the class by guiding students through a series of experiments with the provided variables. Using scientific inquiry, the teacher can guide students through the steps of the scientific process to promote problem-solving skills, predict outcomes, and apply the rules and patterns of each experiment.

In small groups, students can investigate a particular aspect and variable to report findings at a later date to the class through oral or written presentations.

As a science center activity, students can complete the worksheets provided through the teacher feature and answer the challenge questions on the CD-ROM. Content/Features Rating: A

Ease of Use:  Science Explorer is easy to use, for students and teachers. The home screen is visually attractive and easy to navigate. Spoken questions and instructions guide children through the different activities. Ease of Use Rating: A

Product Support: Support is available at the Tool Factory Web site. The support team can be contacted by e-mail. Software upgrades and patches can be found online. Product Support Rating: A

Recommendation: Simulation Explorer is an engaging and easy to use software program providing differentiated experiences for diverse learners. Second language students and special needs learners will find the audio a helpful feature allowing them to process science concepts without language serving as a barrier.

The standardized format is user-friendly. Once students complete a simulation, they will be able to navigate easily through the others, since each simulation is identical in format.

My favorite features are the word bank and the clip art. Students can apply their understanding of content by producing written products explaining the activities they have completed on the CD-ROM. They can add appropriate clip art to produce an aesthetically pleasing project.

These additional features offer greater versatility for the classroom teacher. The curricular activities can be extended and expanded by adding a writing component to a scientific investigation. The teacher can use the graphics to create additional student worksheets specifically designed to meet the needs of individual students in the class.

Today's busy teachers will like this CD-ROM because it frees them of beginning level activities, giving them more time to prepare for projects requiring higher levels of thinking and learning.

I recommend this program for the classroom teacher looking for science software to use in a science center. Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Sally Finley, Gifted/Technology, Country Hills Elementary School, Coral Springs, FL; sallyfinley1[at]

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