Build your own virtual photonics communication system: a Photonics Simulator for high school students

Adam Strickland, Robert Williams, Nemanja Jovanovic, Benjamin Johnston, Judith M. Dawes


In our community outreach activities, we have been developing teaching tools to inform high school students about Optics and Photonics. While there is research supporting the idea that incorporating computer games into education can create a ‘strong cognitive effect’, others suggest that games should merely be used as a teaching tool, rather than as a primary vehicle for teaching. Thus we chose to develop an open-ended Photonics Simulator using Flash, employing photonic components as building blocks to form a communications system, within a classroom lesson including an illustrated talk with a simple optical fibre demonstration. The virtual photonics components have the same properties as the devices used in actual telecommunications links and in our research laboratories. The software is available to download.

We trialled the Photonics Simulator during a single lesson (lessons ranged from 50 minutes to 90 minutes) with five Year 9 or Year 10 classes (from three schools - coeducational, girls only and boys only) during 2007. We gave them a short survey before the lesson to establish their level of knowledge of photonics, and then administered a slightly longer survey, including some repeated questions, after the lesson. The level of knowledge of photonics was significantly improved in every class and in every subgroup tested. (For example answers on ‘the function of an optical amplifier’ improved from 40% correct/partly correct to 70% correct/partly correct). Furthermore, the ‘hands-on’ nature of the simulator was effective in engaging the students, (94% ‘enjoyed playing the game’) and showing them the basis of the communications systems that underpin the Internet.

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