In this paper we present a small-scale study investigating the use of the MicroWorlds Pro multimedia programming environment as an authoring tool for constructing models, simulations and multimedia applications with students of Senior High School. We implemented the cross-thematic educational scenario ``Free fall simulation development'' as an open and flexible framework for activities in actual classroom circumstances, exploring two alternate instructional strategies: a) simulation development from scratch and b) use of a preconstructed microworld, and we observed how the students collaborate and interact with the programming environment. The findings highlight the overall process and the differences in the students' levels of engagement and performance, indicating some special features of the programming environment that contribute to or cause difficulty in the creation of an effective learning environment. We attempt to contribute to the discussion on the main parameters of designing, developing and implementing an effective constructionist approach aimed at engaging students in simulation development as a cross-thematic multimedia project.
The paper addresses the problem of fragmentation of the communities involved in the design of digital media for education. It draws on the experience gained at the Educational Technology Lab in the design of Logo-based microworlds with three different platforms respectively based on component computing, 3D game engines and 3D navigation with a GIS. In this paper I use the term half-baked to describe a microworld which is explicitly designed to engage its users with changing it as the main aspect of their activity. I discuss this kind of microworld as a tool for integrated design involving people with diverse expertise and/or roles to communicate. These kinds of microworlds implicitly exist within the community, but they can be explicitly designed mediated and put to use in the role of facilitators for integrated design and development to enable a growing communication amongst researchers, technicians, teachers and students. A template for presenting microworlds which was constructed through the experience with four such integrated communities is used to describe for each respective case the design principles, the affordances, the histories of development and the variety of emergent microworlds.