Hi! This blog will detail my experiences with using assorted computational tools in the classroom, in particular (but not limited to) using Unity game engine as a modeling and visualization tool, particularly in informal ed and outreach settings.
In summer 2015 my department began the Group Summer Scholars Research Program (GSSRP) a summer immersive research program for students grades 9-12. I spent the first summer performing statistical analysis on exoplanet data with a great group of students, but realized quickly that the program would benefit from activity that had broader scope and fewer prerequisites. We moved summer 2016 to a project developing a version of GalaxSee to run in an Oculus Rift headset using Unity, visualizing small object orbits in a planetary system in virtual reality. Over the course of that summer, subsequent summers, and additional weekly high school computer science club meetings I’ve extended the set of tools and lessons I’ve learned in using Unity not just for outreach, but for modeling and visualization with an introductory programming audience. I’ve additionally been managing a small undergraduate group to help me develop tools in Unity.
One of the great features of Unity as a tool when working with students is the body of documentation available, much of it in the form of video tutorials on youtube and step by step walkthroughs with code examples. Many of my students started by simply installing the software and going through the “Roll-A-Ball” tutorial. I did find, however, that my students benefited from some in person, specific examples of how to get some basic problems working in the Unity interface.