InterJournal Complex Systems, 234
Status: Accepted
Manuscript Number: [234]
Submission Date: 981213
Revised On: 908
ConnectedScience: Learning Biology through Constructing and Testing Computational Theories
Author(s): Uri Wilensky ,Kenneth Reisman

Subject(s): CX.3, CX.0

Category: Brief Article


Biological phenomena can be investigated at multiple levels, from the molecular, to the cellular to the organismic to the ecological level. In typical biology instruction, these levels have been segregated. Yet, it is by examining the connections between such levels that many phenomena in biology, and complex systems in general, are best explained. In this paper, we describe a computational approach that enables students to investigate the relations between different biological levels. Using object-based parallel, embodied modeling tools, students model the micro-rules that underlie the emergence of a phenomenon, and then observe the aggregate dynamics that result. We describe two extended examples in which this approach was employed: predator-prey relationships and synchronously flashing fireflies. In the first, students have general knowledge of the interactions between individual predators and individual prey (the micro-level interactions), but seek to understand the dynamics that result when these interactions are played out in a distributed environment, between populations of predators and populations of prey. In the second, students already understand the macro-level phenomena -- the synchronous flashing of a population of fireflies -- but seek to discover the micro-level rules by which this phenomenon is produced. In both cases, students can frame hypotheses related to their questions, construct computer models that incorporate these hypotheses, and test their hypotheses by running their models and observing the outcomes.

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