The EPIC Project  

Maryland Virtual High School has been a driving force for change in the way that high schools teach science since first introducing Internet connectivity and computational science tools to selected schools in Maryland in 1994. Since that time, we have developed a professional development model that focuses on preparing high school science and math teachers to use computer models and simulations as an integral part of their teaching. An essential component of our program is the creation of a community of teachers who share a commitment to bringing to their students the same inquiry-based, computationally-rich approach used in research and business.

The first real test of a model that is successful in one state is to use it in other settings. MVHS has served as a consultant to the SUNY-Brockport CMST program to assist them in the institution of a teacher leader component to their program. As a result, selected second and third year veterans of the CMST summer program have become instructors and mentors for their first-year teachers. The SUNY-Brockport CMST program has demonstrated that a community of middle and high school computational science users can be built under the leadership of a university offering a multi-year program in which members of the first cohort may be recognized as leaders and trainers of subsequent cohorts.

Through the EPIC project, MVHS has a partnership with the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) in which MVHS master teachers are working with a dozen Pittsburgh-area teachers in the Computation and Science for Teachers (CAST) Program to prepare them to become local leaders in the use of computational models and simulations in the classroom. Unlike Maryland where school districts are organized on a county-wide scope, in Pennsylvania a multitude of independent school districts exist. Developing a community of users across separate districts required that PSC develop direct relationships with every superintendent so that they could facilitate the implementation of the program.

The CAST program consists of an intensive week-long summer workshop in the use of computational tools followed by a set of quarterly workshops. By the end of the summer workshop, the teachers were able to develop simple models to use with their students during the upcoming school year. During the school-year quarterly meetings, the teachers shared their experiences using their models and learned additional techniques for teaching science and math with computational tools. Selected teachers from this first cohort will return the second summer to assist in the training of a new group of teachers. By the end of the second year of the project, it is expected to be self-sustaining with the Pittsburgh teacher leaders taking over the training responsibilities.

Successful implementation of the MVHS model requires three components: a set of experts who know and use computational science with high school students, an institution that can offer ongoing support for the training, and K-12 administrative buy-in for the recruitment and support of the teacher participants. Once an institution makes the commitment to begin a computational science training program in their area, they must locate trainers who are knowledgeable about computational science and responsive to teachers as learners. They must find the school administrators who will actively promote and support the training in their districts. And, they must offer teachers the opportunity to receive more than one year of training. Developing expert computational science teacher leaders takes time.

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