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Return to Insilico - Discrete Modeling Development




This short unit about the spreading of forest fires is intended to teach some of the basics of using a simple pre-made model/simulation. While there are many benefits to using this model, the ability to physically verify the results proves to be difficult. It turns out that the rudimentary simulation of a wild fire spreading through a forest of varying densities can be implemented in a wide range of tools including NetLogo, AgentSheets, Vensim, Excel, and possibly others. Thus, this single model can teach the basics of simulation techniques like agent modeling, cellular automata, and systems dynamics without requiring students to relearn or rediscover what results to expect and allows them to focus on the methods and the techniques.

Background Reading

For Teachers/TAs

WildFire Modeling (wikipedia)

Agent-based modeling and simulation of wildland fire suppression

For Students

Cellular Automata (wikipedia)

History of Cellular Automata

Reference Material

Lecture Notes

Lecture 1

Lecture 2


This lab will consist of learning how to use NetLogo's wildfire model to see how minor changes in parameters can, under certain circumstances, producing wildly different results.

The student should first see the tediousness of the process of:

  1. Set the desired parameter to some value
  2. Run the model
  3. Record the proper results into a spreadsheet
  4. Increment the parameter and repeat steps (2-4)

The next step is to learn how to use NetLogo's parameter sweep ("Behavior Space") functionality to automate this process.

Ideally, when they run the manual parameter sweep they'll get results that tell them very little about how the density of the affects how much of it gets burnt. This will stress the importance of taking representative data sets to be able to accurately analyze the model.

A continuation of the lab would be to use one of the extended models (likely written by one of the TAs) and run parameter sweeps to understand how the different features can dramatically change the results.


Bill of Materials

As long as the students don't try to actually burn down a forest to validate these models, there is no cost for this lab.


CRS Questions

  1. A technique called "systematic dynamical conflagration"
  2. Going out back campus and ....
  3. Coding all the properties of wood into a program
  4. A technique called "cellular automata"
  1. Automated Telecomune
  2. Tessellation Automata
  3. Biological Automated Simulation
  4. Systems Dynamics
  1. Stephen Wolfram
  2. John von Neumann
  3. Alan Turing
  4. Stanislaw Ulam

Quiz Questions

* A question.

Fire Metadata


This should be very early in the semester as it is a fairly simple and short topic. Given its simplicity, it should only be a single week.

Concepts and Techniques

This unit should teach the basics of using someone else's model, as well the importance of conducting multiple runs with different parameters in order to gain an accurate understanding of the effect of the model.

General Education Alignment

Analytical Reasoning Requirement

Abstract Reasoning

*** Analysis of this unit's support or not for this item.

Quantitative Reasoning

Scientific Inquiry Requirement

Scaffolded Learning

The NetLogo model(s) in question are easy to use and easy to witness the effect of changing parameters to obtain different results. As well there are fairly clear extensions for the student inclined towards taking those steps.

Inquiry Based Learning

Some prose.
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