Introduction to Biology Simulations

Updated: Feb 20, 2019

As a biology teacher I find simulations incredibly useful, particularly for my evolution and ecology units. Virtual labs help students get analysis practice in situations where a hands-on lab may be cost or time prohibitive. I've found some good free, online options over the years. However, I also ran into simulations that were too simple, too complicated, or lacked variation (all students get the same outcome). Or, a simulation I had previously used would be unavailable when I returned to use it the next year.

I had taken C and LabVIEW programming courses for my genetics degree at Purdue, but I had not done any coding since then (circa 2000). I decided to learn enough coding to make the simulations I was looking for. I used CodeHS (along with some of my students) to pick up Javascript and html/CSS basics. In addition to those basics, I use internet searches to find answers to whatever specific coding questions I have as I work on simulations. In addition, my father had a long career as a programmer, so I occasionally ask him for help. My code is ugly from a programmer view, but if it works as intended, I consider it a victory.

The first simulation I worked on was the population genetics simulation. The initial attempts were based on the AP Biology spreadsheet lab. I eventually integrated it with html/CSS buttons and sliders, added visuals and made the Biology Simulations website. After making several additional simulations I made the website public at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year. As of November 2018, I've used seven of the activities with my students.

This blog will look at each of the simulations on this site, discuss their use with students, and introduce updates and new content.

Students using the Founder Effect and Bottleneck Event simulations to learn about genetic drift

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