Natural Selection Geekasm

Posted on January 7, 2015

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I wouldn’t have attended this session — Use This One Easy Trick To Make Your Class Better! — because … I’m not faculty so I don’t have classes.   However, shortly before the fire alarms ended our beginning-of-semester talk, the description changed my mind — the Distance and Virtual Learning guys were trying to encourage people to use their resources more.

One of the labs in one of the basic science courses is a simulation of natural selection.   It’s a nifty “hands-on” activity, and a quick search indicates it’s a common one:   http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/color-changing-dots-bring-science-home/   … Basically you punch colored paper dots out and sprinkle them on an “environment,” close and open your eyes and pluck the first one you see, as a “predator” would do, and after you’ve culled a certain percentage, the remaining ones “reproduce”.

PRoblem:   takes two hours to do three generations what with dots flying everywhere.  People tend to find the dots nearest the “disposal” cup first. Lots of labor counting that isn’t knowledge-related labor.   Okay, granted, that article I read last week indicates that having hands on *is* a benefit in and of itself, but… why not more?

Solution:   use HTML and JavaScript and CSS to re-create the activity online. The dots get sprinkled randomly; you click on a dot and a “mouth” appears (that was too cute for words and I never ever ever would have thought of it) also at random and you drag the dot to it.

A little counter above keeps track of how many you still need to find.  Once you’re done it shows you a data table with the survivors of each color, and the number that will be in the next generation, and you continue… *and*  it collects data from all the other people using it too.

Oh, and the teacher thinks it would be awesome if it were out on the web for all the world to use and no, *that* isn’t out there already.   And I could say “Hey, I’m taking an OER train the trainer course and would like to share this…”

… and then there’s the next question:   what would these guys do for my little interactions????    We shall see…

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