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Proposal Contents:

Summary

Today more than ever students will need flexible mental models of core science concepts in order to interpret their future jobs. As jobs requiring science and math increase in numbers, the burgeoning bio-technologies being only one example, future workers will be asked to learn new skills rapidly. Understanding why a particular technology is required is a clear asset. We now have the ability to teach science concepts more effectively than ever before. The NSF-funded Molecular Workbench Project (REC 9980620), now in its final year of research and testing, has developed several powerful atomic-level models. These models, together called the Molecular Workbench, when combined with a scripting language that 'talks with" our model, and with Berkeley's WISE program that delivers on-line projects in inquiry science, can illuminate some of the hardest-to-teach concepts.

Community Colleges are a critical gateway not only to career training but also, for many, to college itself. Offering science courses ways to insert powerful interactivity with models will allow students not only to master science, but facilitate their transfer to specialty courses. The overall goal of this project is to develop and evaluate the use of complex, interactive computational models in the real-world situations encountered in two-year college technical programs. The project will develop and evaluate, flexible atomic-scale modeling software as well as the software architecture that supports the rapid development and deployment of educational materials that utilize this model.

The Molecular Workbench software is capable of underpinning key physics and some chemistry concepts. Situated between the rigor of professional science and the simplifications required by good teaching, its capacity is enhanced by judicious use of algorithms. This project proposes to develop the modeling software's capacity to model chemical bonds, photon interactions, new computational and visualization algorithms needed to model different features of larger biomolecules (e.g. steric ligand-receptor interactions at active sites).

Working together with science advisors and a set of community college educators, this project proposes not only to enhance the Molecular Workbench software, but also to develop insert activities using the models, and carefully evaluate their use and efficacy. We will pilot test this technology in two-year college courses by providing a range of hypermodels, scaffolded models that use atomic-scale models to illustrate key science topics in the context of typical technical specialties. We will identify a set of key science topics typically taught in biology, chemistry, and physics courses at this level and generate hypermodels for each that are based on technologies and processes used in specialty programs. We will capitalize on an existing platform for inquiry science projects that has been developed at the University of California, Berkeley. The Web-based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE) scaffolds students as they work collaboratively on inquiry projects. Using WISE, the hypermodels will be integrated into complete online instructional units that faculty can adapt to their needs without significant changes in the organization or learning objectives of current instruction. They will all, however, have a consistent, atomic-scale approach that could be the basis of a new, interdisciplinary approach to the core sciences.

The materials will be developed in collaboration with faculty at two-year colleges and curriculum experts, including Springfield (MA) Technical Community College (STCC) and others throughout the US recruited through the Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD) and their Community College Presidents Council. We will identify ten faculty from these colleges who will assist us in materials development and testing.

Through a project web site, software versions will be released regularly in both source form and as executables. We will make all grant-supported code available as open source as part of our Open Source Library of Educational Technology (OSLET) initiative. We will also publish on the Internet examples of how to tailor the objects in its library. The hypermodels and WISE projects will be available online as soon as complete versions are completed. Information about these materials will be targeted to educators through our free newsletter @Concord, CORD publications, and popular articles. Articles suitable for peer-review about the software and curriculum materials will be prepared for publication and professional talks.



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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. EIA-0219345. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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