Posterboards or Java Applets?

Andri Ioannidou*, Alexander Repenning*, John Zola**
* Center for LifeLong Learning and Design, Department of Computer Science, University of Colorado at Boulder, Campus Box 430, Boulder, CO 80309-0430, Email: {andri, ralex} ** New Vista High School, 805 Gillaspie Drive, Boulder, CO 80303, Email:


In project-oriented courses, students often research a topic guided by a number of relevant questions and then collect and present their findings in the form of a report or a posterboard. Recently, and with various degrees of success, the web is used as an information resource. Teachers evaluating the resulting artifacts experience difficulty in differentiating between students actual understanding of the topic area and prolific copying and pasting approaches. In the context of a social studies class, we explored the idea of having students build interactive web-based simulations instead of posterboards as means to gain a deeper understanding of complex issues. To build a running simulation students cannot simply paste existing pieces together. Instead, they are actively engaged students by being forced to map one kind of representation onto another. At the same time, the notion of simulation is not a trivial one. Fully appreciating the value of simulations requires time and building one requires additional effort by the students. This paper reports on the use of the AgentSheets environment in having students with no programming experience build interactive simulations that they could share through the web as part of a non-technology centered social studies course on protest and reform