The primary aim of Fish Farm is to teach the value of using the scientific method in tackling problems of some complexity. There are several controllable variables (stocking density, protein content of food, aeration and ground water circulation) and constraints (availability of ground water, natural variations in temperature) which determine conditions (oxygen, temperature, ammonia) and lead to varying degrees of growth, fish kills and epidemics. Students start by making intelligent guesses with a species about which something is known (the Channel Catfish). Typically, this leads to big financial losses, humility and renewed respect for the scientific method. The way out of this is to plan a series of carefully controlled experiments varying a single factor at a time to determine the optimum conditions for growing a species. There is a choice of 26 `unknown' species in addition to the Catfish.
The program is well designed to guide users through it without making it too easy. It provides good feedback on the simulations. Data from experiments are collected and on-screen graphs may be produced. The results of the experiments are augmented with comments about what has happened and the progress of an experiment is accompanied by messages reporting events such as fish deaths. The success of the experiments is clearly measurable in terms of fish growth, fixed and variable costs and the resulting bottom line.
The documentation is very good indeed and is divided into separate manuals for the instructor and for the students. Students are given a structure to tackle experiments but the degree of assistance is measured to encourage students to think for themselves and develop problem solving abilities.
The review copy was the DOS version but it is also available in Macintosh and Apple II versions. The reviewer is considered a Macintosh fanatic by his peers, but is happy to report that the DOS design is remarkably good. The screens are well laid out; it is easy to navigate around the program and the graphs are fine for a text-based interface.
This is a professionally produced product. It is highly recommended. Not only does it achieve its objectives easily and elegantly, it is also great fun to use.
Ian Montgomery is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Quantitative Training Unit for Fisheries in the Institute of Marine Ecology at the University of Sydney
|Platform: Available for Macintosh and PC (DOS).
Cost: $150 plus $14.95 for instructors manual (the latter available only direct from Addison-Wesley Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company.