The Duck Builder simulation is a lesson that comes around every year and is sort of a tradition. Yes it’s a bit silly but the Year 3 children like doing it (with some of the older pupils fondly recalling it when they see me doing it with a new class each year) and when you actually look at the skills it is teaching the children it’s place in the curriculum can be clearly justified.
The program itself if a free download (so those that wish can use it at home which is always a benefit) and is quite straightforward to run – you just change the various physical features of the duck like it’s wing length or body size and then see whether this causes it to fly up, down or straight across. Whilst getting it to fly perfectly will result in a nice ‘well done’ message appearing on the screen, a duck which either crashes or shoots up into space since it has not been designed well enough will instead result in a rather lame duck-related joke being shown.
To keep the children focused during their use of the program, I give them a worksheet I made up which asks them to investigate how particular features of the duck affect how well it flies.
To begin, they create four ducks with every feature set to 0, except for the flap speed which is either a low or middle-range number. Once each has been made and the effects of each set of designs observed (with a low speed making it fly down and a speed of about 25 making it fly across), the children can then predict what value the flap speed needs to be for the duck to fly up and then go on to test it by creating another, fifth, duck.
Next, they create a new set of four ducks to this time examine how the wing length affects the duck’s ability to fly. Again, each duck only differs with its front and back settings (which both have to be identical in any duck for it to fly). The ducks they make either fly up or down and so once more they can then attempt to predict and test what length the wings need to be for it fly straight across (hopefully noticing that since it flew down with a length of 23 and up with a length of 27, that the desired length needs to be between 24 and 26).
In both these investigations, children are learning how to:
- systematically gather and record results;
- only change the feature of the duck being investigated whilst keeping the other variables the same (constant);
- identify patterns in their results;
- make and test predictions using ICT.
As I said earlier, the program is quite fun to use and
although it only takes about half an hour to fully explore its capabilities,
does teach the children some valuable modelling skills and is a piece of
software that they will all remember using as they get older.
As I said earlier, the program is quite fun to use and although it only takes about half an hour to fully explore its capabilities, does teach the children some valuable modelling skills and is a piece of software that they will all remember using as they get older.