Fabulous Software for Developing Science and Maths Skills

  • On 2011-03-09
  • 21st century learning, AALF, intuyu consulting, learning, maths, One to One Laptops, science, Software

Some of you know that I was an Engineer by education. I love my science and maths and I always did well in them at school and university. Given this I was very excited when I saw three articles flash their way across my screen today and I thought I would share them with you.

These articles are for all you science and maths teachers who are looking for new ways to engage your students and make learning more interactive and easier! Two of the articles can be found at the www.aalf.org website.


Interactive Simulations to Develop Higher-Level Science and Math Skills With Your Laptops

Author: Scott Garrigan, School of Education, Wilkes University | March 8th, 2011

How can you best engage students in higher-level science and math activities to prepare them for an unimaginable future filled with the fruits of nanotechnology, biotechnology, and genetic engineering? Most teachers and textbooks don’t address these topics that can capture the imagination of young minds. PhET, NetLogo, and Molecular Workbench are three teacher-tested simulation systems that hundreds of thousands of students use to learn the most challenging concepts in science and math.

PhET Interactive Simulations (http://phet.colorado.edu)

Imagine building a skateboard park to study the conservation of energy. PhET’s Energy Skate Park simulation lets students see and graph changing kinetic and potential energies as their skater rips down the steep starting ramp, powers through a loop, and survives daring jumps. Students learn basic physics as they create the most thrilling skate tracks they can imagine. They learn proper science terminology and measurement, too. Here’s a link to Energy Skate Park with 25 teacher-designed lesson plans and translations of the simulation in 30 different languages: http://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/energy-skate-park.

PhET interactive science simulations, developed at the University of Colorado at Boulder, provide 200 interactive models that cover most science and some maths classes from elementary through university levels. Each sim focuses on one science or maths concept, and it allows students to change key variables to see how the model responds. Teacher-developed activities and lesson plans accompany each of the simulations.

PhET addresses both core curriculum and emerging science. Sims like Glaciers, Masses & Springs, pH Scale, and Salts & Solubility address traditional concepts. Students explore cutting-edge concepts through sims like Molecular Motors, Quantum Bounds, Stretching DNA. Some interactive simulations designed as construction or game activities are Gene Machine, Build an Atom, the Radioactive Dating Game, and Electric Field Hockey.

Maths simulations like Equation Grapher, Curve Fitting, Calculus Grapher, and Plinko Probability allow students to engage with maths ideas in ways are not possible with paper and pencil. Professional development or coaching shouldn’t be needed for PhET because each simulation is focused on a single science or maths concept and extensive lesson plans are provided.

NetLogo: http://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo

Third graders use NetLogo’s Climate Change model to visualise how individual carbon dioxide molecules reflect infrared rays back to Earth to create a greenhouse effect. Across town, eleventh graders use NetLogo’s Weak Acid simulation to model and calculate how weak acids affect pH differently from strong acids. NetLogo includes 200 pre-programmed simulations that cover most areas of science and some areas of maths such as probability. Each simulation includes clear directions for student and teacher, an explanation of the contribution of each variable, and suggestions on how students may extend the model.

Like PhET, students engage in exploring science relationships by investigating the effects of key variables. Unlike PhET, NetLogo simulations provide more accurate and more flexible models that students can explore more deeply. They can modify the models, and they can even create entirely new simulations using the built-in NetLogo computer language and interface components. Students can also design individual and networked educational games with NetLogo.

The NetLogo designers have created sequences of simulations to create a comprehensive Gas Lab, Probability Lab, and Genetics Lab to promote deep understanding of complex topics that are otherwise difficult to study. NetLogo excels at agent-based modelling to explore emergent behaviour, and it is used by university researchers and governments as well as by K-12 students to study complex relationships.

“Agents” are independent objects such as individual molecules in a gas, an individual rabbit in a population study, or an individual person in an AIDS epidemic. This kind of experiment can only be modelled by “running” the simulation rather than by applying a mathematical formula to get a “right answer.” NetLogo simulations include the same kind of random variability that affects behaviour in the physical world. The system helps students understand the importance of relationships rather than fixed answers for complex problems.

Molecular Workbench (MW) (http://mw.concord.org)

Advanced science students use several Molecular Workbench nanotechnology modules to learn the quantum mechanics that drive individual atoms and molecules to self assemble in future manufacturing operations. The twelfth graders use MW’s built-in “camera” to capture the outcome of their model and the built-in report generator to record their observations and explanations. When they finish, they submit their project reports through the MW system to their teacher for grading. Across town, fourth grade students run MW’s Evolution Readiness simulations to learn the scientific processes involved in natural selection.

Like PhET and NetLogo, MW supplies the science classroom with hundreds of simulations carefully designed to meet the needs of today’s K-12 learner. Teachers find MW’s interactive models invaluable to teach difficult concepts from quantum mechanics, nanotechnology, biotech, and genetics that are not addressed well in traditional textbooks and lab experiments. MW was created at the non-profit Concord Consortium, and their team of educators, researchers, and programmers create new modules every year to address emerging K-12 needs.

Each module contains scaffolded lessons to guide middle and high school students step-by-step through an interactive learning process in which they complete projects that can be used as performance-based assessments. Teachers and students can create their own simulations and activities. Molecular Workbench has been nicknamed “Word for Molecules.” MW was designed to provide molecular dynamics simulations to help learn concepts in physics, chemistry, and biology, and it has been enhanced over the past decade to simulate atomic, sub-atomic, and fluid behaviour as well as Newtonian mechanics. My favourite is a nanotechnology self-assembly tutorial that I’ve used to help hundreds of teachers experience the kind of “ah-ah!” moments that their students can get through Molecular Workbench activities.


Communicating The Way Mathematicians Do

Author: Nils Ahbel | March 8th, 2011

I’ve been a mathematics educator for over 20 years and have always kept abreast of the latest technology. There are many excellent tools for investigating mathematics, but until recently all the available tools forced users to use the computer or handheld keyboard, which is clearly not the way mathematicians work. Unlike the subjects of English and history in which a QWERTY keyboard is an excellent interface, mathematics and science are at best clumsily communicated via a traditional keyboard. For that reason, we preferred paper and pencil or marker and whiteboard. On the other hand, interactive whiteboards and tablet PCs represent an environment in which mathematicians and scientists can easily share their ideas electronically. Fortunately, software has begun to emerge that recognizes handwriting so the software is simply a natural extension of the stylus or marker.

One such piece of software with which I have been working is FluidMath. This software has improved my teaching experience immensely. In particular, the software lets me write anywhere on the page and will recognize my handwritten math expressions and equations and turn them into graphs and tables quickly without thinking about or navigating the user interface. From my perspective as a math educator, I feel my work has greatly benefited from these capabilities. Everything on the FluidMath page is dynamic so, for example if you change a function, the associated graph, table, and solution change as well. Variables can be associated with sliders, so the environment is incredibly dynamic. Both graphs and sliders are created by a one-stroke gesture.

Click here to see video demonstration 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vREuu7fGorA

The FluidMath software platform also includes a broad and general-purpose Computer Algebra System (CAS). The Common Core Standards Initiative (1) lists CAS as an appropriate tool when solving a mathematical problem. CAS has been getting more attention in textbooks and will, in my opinion, continue to see increased emphasis. The teacher or student interfaces with its CAS through handwritten input via the screen of the computer in order to do mathematical computation or graphing. With Fluidmath, the tablet PC is not used as a substitute for manipulation skills, but rather as a tool for investigation. This change in perspective is incredibly important – it helps students be mathematicians and not just learn mathematics.

Click here to see video demonstration 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOmt2R79sPA

In sum, I see the advantage of this software for 1:1 educators as three fold. First, the handwriting recognition is outstanding. Second, FluidMath uses standard mathematical notation so teachers and students alike need not learn any new syntax as you would with almost any other mathematical software. Third, the dynamic nature of this software means mathematics no longer need be a ‘paper and pencil’ subject but it can now come alive.

Based on my experiences, FluidMath in conjunction with tablet PCs make the learning of mathematics more effective, more engaging, and more enjoyable.

(Note that this software is not yet on the market but is scheduled to be released in the near future. For more information, visit: www.fluiditysoftware.com )



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