The EdGrid Project  

The Maryland Virtual High School formed a partnership with college professors, high school teachers and preservice teachers to develop, field test and evaluate instructional activities for science and mathematics using scientific modeling and visualization. Their work was funded through a subcontract to a United States Department of Education "Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology" (PT3) grant awarded to the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA-EdGrid). The MVHS-EdGrid team joined the Building Learning with Technology (BLT) PT3 grant won by the Center for Learning and Educational Technology at the University of Maryland, College Park, to foster a more extensive collaboration among Maryland educators.

Why Computational Science in Preservice Education?

Modern science and engineering have become increasingly reliant upon computation as an aid to research, development and design. Indeed, one can hardly imagine a large-scale engineering project that will not call upon many aspects of the mathematical and computational sciences. Yet few K-12 students or teachers have any exposure to the computational sciences; even basic modeling and visualization technologies are not being employed at more than a handful of K-12 schools. Just as teachers would not think about teaching biology without a microscope or chemistry without test tubes, most of today's scientists do not think about doing any kind of science without a computer. The computer has become a basic tool of science. At the same time, the new K-12 standards for science and mathematics education are emphasizing the application of experiential-based learning, much of it integrating the use of technology.

According to Setting a Research and Planning Agenda for Computer Modeling in the Pre-College Curriculum (Final Report: NSF RED-9255877), "Computational modeling ideas and activities should have a key and central role throughout the science curriculum - not peripherally, and not only as part of a special or optional course." As a major recommendation of the report, this statement justifies tying the computational modeling to core ideas of the science curriculum. Models help "abstract from reality key features that enable us to gain insight into the fundamental processes underlying external complexity." There needs to be a transition where relationships between variables being modeled are not just made explicit (verbally or graphically) in a qualitative sense, but quantitatively. Observation, measurement, graphing, curve fitting, modeling, and visualization are all part of a continuum of doing science. Curriculum issues are also addressed in this report. "There is a need for a set of guidelines and models for use in integrating models and simulations into locally-relevant curriculum in a way that allows students to achieve the new goals."

For this to occur, teachers will themselves require introduction to the use of these computational methods and the ways in which they can be used to achieve the new curricular goals. Teachers need to understand how to use the technology to facilitate constructivist, hands-on, engaged learning and to understand how to use modeling, visualization, and computation to do science. Computational scientists need a better appreciation of the problems facing teachers and school districts working hard to make this transition.

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