On option 2 as well:
I agree with my Italian colleague. The students LOVE to play once you turn them loose on the simulation, and they will make some good connections. Here is a comment from one of my students this summer on the :Natural Selection" sim, and what she thought was the connection between the wolves and the bunnies and the environment:
"Once i would turn the hot to the cold which is winter the wolves would only eat the brown bunnies because they were the ones that were more noticeable than the white bunnies.
Once i would change it back to hot the wolves would only eat the white ones for the same reason because they were more noticeable than the brown bunnies.
The bunnies would increase a lot if you would just leave it there."
The idea was to make them see that if they leave the environment as is, a species with no interference can quickly grow to become the dominant one on the planet! And the point is very well driven home by the fact that if they don't have wolves come in and interact with the bunnies, they will take over the world and they see a picture with the new ruling species.
To me, class discussion is facilitated enormously by these interactions. The kids feel that they were playing a video game, but when I step in and pose some guiding questions, they make the connection to real life situations, and to material that they might have seen in class, but was not introduced like this (i.e. perhaps they saw it in a lecture or another not-so-hands-on way during class)
Here is another attempt at relating energies from the "Energy Skate Park" simulation by another one of my summer kids:
"well as the height got higher then the speed increased. and if you increased the friction the man will ride slower. kinetic energy was being used while it was riding and while it was not in motion it was potential energy. thermal energy was when the guy had been in kinetic energy and stopped at an instant and as potential energy and created thermal energy."
I teach at a school where the population is almost 99% at-risk, economically disadvantaged, and a vast majority are ELL's . For students like these, expressing simple scientific principles, even once they have internalized them and can explain them verbally to me, is a hard task when I ask them to put it in writing. From these two samples I can see a small glimpse of future complex writing, and in science, this is very important. The student using the Skate Park was able to surmise that as friction increases, the man starts to slow down, with no interaction from me, just by him playing with the controls, and he was able to put it in writing.
My master teacher saw a comment I posted on my Facebook wall about the course, and she was happy. So I think that I will be indeed introducing the sims during our department meetings the week before school starts!