Using AgentSheets in the Protest and Reform Class at the New Vista High School

Background Information

The Center for LifeLong Learning and Design (L3D) in the Computer Science Department and people from the College of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder work with New Vista High School in the context of "working shops" to help and support teachers integrate technology in their teaching practices. In this setting, John Zola, a social studies teacher at New Vista, wanted to use Agentsheets in his "Protest and Reform" class, a history class that focused on the protest movements in the American history (e.g. the American Revolution, the Civil Rights movement, the Feminist movement, the Grape and Lettuce Boycott, the Vietnam movement etc). Even though Agentsheets has been used in a number of science classes (in the context of the Science Theatre Project), there was no preceedent of using AgentSheets in social studies classes. Because the researchers did not know much about protest and reform, and the teacher did not know much about the technology, finding a good mapping between the simulation technology and the content of the class was challenging. Two iterations of the experiment have been conducted so far and the results are promising.


Boycott Project in ThinkQuest: The students who created the Grape Boycott simulation submitted their project (web pages with simulation applet) to the ThinkQuest competition. Check it out!!
Protest and Reform applets on EOE: The Grape Boycott Java applet created by students of the first iteration was featured on the Educational Object Economy (EOE).
German Newspaper Article: An article in a German newspaper mentioned the projects created for the first iteration of the Protest and Reform project. [PDF file of article (in German)] <NEED TRANSLATION!>
International Conference of the Learning Sciences: The students who created the Protest simulation had the unique opportunity to present their work at the International Conference on the Learning Sciences (ICLS'98) in Atllanta, GA. When the students were demoing their simulation, a teacher who was passing by, remarked "I know this! I found it on the Web and used it with my students in my class!".
L3D buys iMacs for New Vista: As a result of the success of the first iteration of the Protest and Reform project, the Center for LifeLong Learning and Design bought five iMacs and loaned them to John Zola at New Vista for using them in the second iteration of the class. This was the first step for creating a Simulation Studio in the school.
New Vista's Grant for Simulation Studio: A grant proposal for getting equipment to create a Simulation Studio at New Vista gets accepted. The Simulation Studio will be the ground for future iterations of using AgentSheets in John Zola's social studies classes and Lisa Feldman's earth science classes.

First Iteration

Process Description:

Initially, the teacher used two simulations created by researchers ó "Segregation" (based on Schelling's idea on Micromotives and Macrophenomena, 1971) and "Protest March" ó to present some basic ideas about protest and reform. Later in the course, two groups of students created their own simulations for their final projects.

Grape Boycott Project: One of the groups that chose to do a final project using AgentSheets consisted of four girls who were initially intimidated by technology. They selected the topic of the California Grape Boycott. The project, as the students defined it, included building a web page which consisted of a boycott simulation applet which they had created, as well as links to related web sites. The students intended that their web page serve as a small virtual library on the subject.

Protest Project: The second group decided to create a simulation to explore what happens in peaceful protest marches that turn violent and involve police confrontations. After some initial research in the library and on the web to find information about protests, the students chose to create a simulation of a protest march in favor of legalizing marijuana.

Both groups presented their work during Exhibition Day, a school-wide day for students to present their projects to their schoolmates, and received compliments and positive feedback on their work. In fact, another New Vista teacher who attended the presentations was intrigued by these projects and wanted to have her students create such "cool projects and present them during Exhibition Day". Concequently, she had her students use AgentSheets in the "Exposing the Human Grotesque" cource, a language-arts class which examined the grotesque aspect of human nature through literature and psychology. The students' final project was to create an imaginary city and populate it with various bizzare characters. Each student was responsible to create the character (look) and write his or her story. An AgentSheets simulation of the city provided an interesting way to navigate through the story space. You can visit the "grotesque" city of Dwibe, Iowa, navigate through the city using the simulation applet and read the stories students created.

Still to do: Include Documents, Student Quotes, Claire's presentation for Women in Engineering high-school carreer day, ICLS trip

Second Iteration

Process Description:

Equipped with the lessons learned during the first year of the project, we conducted a study in a second "Protest and Reform" class. After giving the students an initial questionnaire (to get an idea on their exposure with computers and simulations), we introduced AgentSheets using the previous yearís simulations and web pages, giving the students activities for the Boycott Project and activities for the Protest Project. This introduction was an improvement over our first attempt, when we could not show students AgentSheets simulations directly connected to the topics of the class, and students therefore felt the technology was disconnected from the content.

We gave students a broader picture of the AgentSheets system in a "simulation festival" in which students had the chance to experiment with a number of different simulations which were unrelated to the class content. Exposing students to a variety of AgentSheets simulations gave them a sense of the range of possible features that they could use in their own simulations. We then created a "mini lesson" - a hands-on introduction to Visual AgenTalk programming - an activity which exposed students both to using simulations and to building simulations (AgentSheets Tips).

In the first iteration of this study, students could choose to create a simulation or a more traditional final project, such as a posterboard, report, or video. In the second iteration, the entire class was required to create simulations. However, students could create either a physical simulation (a game board) or a computer simulation embedded in web pages. Six groups of students chose to create computer simulations and two groups chose to create physical simulations.

The students formed teams and chose their topics of interest. They then spent about a week researching their topic in the library and on the web (according to the teachers' research plan), in order to learn enough about the topic to be able to create a simulation about it. The teacher and the researchers held "design sessions" with each of the groups to assist them in mapping the their chosen topic to the capabilities of the technology. After these sessions, the groups began to create their simulations and web pages in class.

One helpful resource for students was the Behavior Exchange, a web-based repository for sharing AgentSheets agents. In the Behavior Exchange, students found agents, such as grass, houses, roads, cars and trains, which they could use as they were or customize for their own simulations. Some students also used AgentSheetsí ability to incorporate video clips into simulations. This facility required them to learn about additional technologies, such as video digitizing and editing. In parallel to building the simulations, students created web pages containing the historical context of their topic, related links, pictures, and videos.
The projects using computer simulation spanned a variety of topics:

Chicago 1968: a project about the protests that occurred during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

Flint Strikes: a project about the United Autoworkers (UAW) sit-down strike of Flint, Michigan in 1936.

Kent State: a project about the anti-Vietnam protests that happened on the Kent State Campus in May of 1970 that resulted in the killing and injuring of students by the National Guard.

Ludlow Massacre: a project about the massacre of miners in Ludlow, Colorado at the beginning of the century (1913-14).

Montgomery Bus Boycott: a project about the bus boycotts resulting from Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat to a white person in 1955.

Urban Riots: a project about what causes and what happens in urban riots, in the context of the Watts riots of 1965 and the Newark riots.

We gave students a final questionnaire, which gave them another opportunity to react and comment on what has occurred in the class. Finally, most students presented their work during Exhibition Day. The students received positive feedback, and pertinent questions, both from their schoolmates and other New Vista teachers.

We employed three types of assessment:

Self-assesment, in which the students themselves judged their group project (using the Assessment Rubric developed by the teacher and researchers) and their individual contributions (using a Self-Evaluation form)

Peer-assessment, in which each group evaluated the simulation and webpages of the other groups (using the same Assessment Rubric)

Teacher and researcher assessment, in which the teacher with the researchers assessed both the product of the projects (using the same Assessment Rubric), as well as the process students went through. We took into account factors such as engagment, motivation, learning.

Still to Do: Students' Quotes etc.


For more details about these projects, the process we underwent, the obstacles we encountered, and the educational implications of using AgentSheets simulations in Social Studies classes please refer to our publications on the subject:

Ioannidou, A., Repenning, A., & Zola, J. (1998). Posterboards or Java Applets? In A. Bruckman, M. Guzdial, J. Kolodner, & A. Ram (Ed.), International Conference of the Learning Sciences 1998, (pp. 152-159). Atlanta, GA: Association of the Advancement of Computing in Education. [PDF file]

Cherry, G., Ioannidou, A., Rader, C., Brand, C., & Repenning, A. (1999). Simulations for Lifelong Learning. In Proceedings of National Educational Computing Conference (NECC 1999). Atlantic City, NJ. [PDF file]

Ioannidou, A., Rader, C., Repenning, A., Lewis, C., & Cherry, G. (1999). Making Constructionism Work in the Classroom. submitted for publication in Constructionism and Mathematics.


Dr. Alexander Repenning
Research Professor
Center for LifeLong Learning and Design
Computer Science Department
University of Colorado at Boulder
E-mail address:

Andri Ioannidou
Ph.D. Student
Center for LifeLong Learning and Design
Computer Science Department
University of Colorado at Boulder
E-mail address:

John Zola
Social Studies Teacher
New Vista High School

.. and his wonderful students in the "Protest and Reform" class!


Many thanks to Emily Walker, Ted Chen, and Tim Greenfield for their valuable help during the two iterations of the project. The Center for LifeLong Learning and Design for its support (loaning equipment to New Vista for the project). This work is supported by the National Science Foundation AAT grant (#).

This page was created by Andri Ioannidou ( on March 20, 1998. Last updated on July 1, 1999.