by James Bailey |

If you have watched the recent sequence of landscape animations so far, you likely found them to be plausibly realistic.

Visual accuracy is the essential first step in getting to grips with real ecologies right in the classroom. Cartoon renditions are not adequate. Videogame renderings do not relate to the world we actually live in.

The animations in the previous posts do not, however, give the student any role to play. What we need are animations of similar verisimilitude that are driven by student decisions; live apps where they set the scene and an ecologically plausible outcome unfolds. Then, when they change their inputs, a different outcome results. Self Schooling is researching the possibilities here. Landlab ( looks very promising as the science-based underpinnings, but the connection to visualization is complicated. This is a six month project.

A second approach is to create pre-defined animations like the one we have been watching, then suggest computer-based investigations of the particulars along the way. For example those five wind turbines are financed by the DE Shaw financial organization (, with a very attractive rate of return. What is the proper role of aggressive finance in the challenge of climate change? (The middle school years are not too soon to start learning how money works.)

An even better focus lurks in those prairie plants that surround the cornfields at the end. They were the result of a marvelous simulation project by the computer science department at the University of Houston. The website no longer exists, but you can read about it in Data Stories. And you can run a simulation of plant growth in the Data Stories app. All the details are in the special edition of the journal Ecological Modeling  (Volume 234 June 2102) devoted to the project. It is a marvelous story that, properly presented, is fully understandable in the middle school years. Because visual.


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