Virtual Courseware: Web-Based Simulations for Promoting Inquiry-Based Teaching and Learning
Posted: Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012
by Paul Narguizian and Robert Desharnais
There is wide acceptance that inquiry-based curriculum programs have positive effects on cognitive achievement, process skills, and attitudes towards science. Science instructors seek engaging, effective, and inquiry-based activities that are convenient to implement in their classrooms. While the web provides a vast resource of declarative information (some of it multimedia), there are few places on the web where instructors can obtain effective inquiry-based tools for teaching science. The Virtual Courseware Project fulfills this need with interactive, web-based simulation activities that emphasize the methods of science for both life and earth science topics.
With Virtual Courseware, students learn by doing: making observations, proposing hypotheses, designing experiments, collecting and analyzing data generated by the software, and synthesizing and communicating results. The activities include an online assessment quiz that consists of randomized interactive questions. The students’ answers are graded automatically and stored in a database server, and a printable certificate of completion is issued for each student. The instructor can access student and class results, allowing them to quickly gauge how well the key concepts were understood. The simulations are designed to enhance traditional curricula and provide a supplement to experimental laboratory and field work.
As an example, the Drosophila activity allows students to simulate laboratory experiments where they breed fruit flies carrying visible mutations and analyze the offspring to determine the laws governing genetic inheritance. The paradigm for this activity is a “virtual lab bench” where students can order fly stocks carrying mutations, mate flies in an incubator, and view and count flies under a microscope. Experimental data are entered into a “lab bench computer” which is used for analysis. Data tables and images can be exported into a “laboratory notebook” and results from the notebook can be imported to create an on-line scientific report. This activity promotes inquiry-based learning and the scientific method because it allows students to propose hypotheses, design their own experiments, and collect and analyze data to test these hypotheses in an engaging virtual environment that mimics a laboratory setting.
Virtual Courseware Offerings
The development of Virtual Courseware began in 1995 with the release of the genetics application Virtual FlyLab. With the support of a series of NSF awards, several additional applications were developed in the areas of biology and earth science. These have been organized into four application suites:
- Virtual Courseware for Inquiry-Based Science Education consists of Drosophila, described above, and two other applications to be released soon: Natural Selection, which allows students investigate the evolution of traits by performing laboratory experiments involving water fleas, and Relative Dating, where students can pose and test hypotheses regarding the order of the geological events represented in a geological cross section.
- Virtual Courseware for Earth and Environmental Sciences includes two groups of activities. (1) Earthquake consists of a java-based simulation on determining the travel times of seismic waves and a second simulation on locating the epicenter and Richter magnitude of an earthquake. Also available is a version called Terremoto that is completely in Spanish. (2) Global Warming consists of two simulations and several interactive tutorials. Energy Balance allows students to explore the factors that determine the temperature on the Earth’s surface, and Future Climate Change allows students to experimentally manipulate simulations of Earth’s climate. Seven tutorials accompany these activities: Albedo, Carbon Cycle, Greenhouse Gases, Greenhouse Effects, Hydological Cycle, Milankovitch Cycles, and Seasons on Earth.
- Geology Labs On-Line has five interactive tutorials: (1) Virtual Earthquake for earthquake epicenter and magnitude determination, (2) Virtual Dating—Isochron for determining the ages of rock and minerals, (3) Virtual Dating—Radiocarbon for determining the ages of fossils and archeological artifacts, (4) Virtual River—Discharge for determining the flow and other properties of rivers, and (5) Virtual River—Flooding for determining the frequency of flooding.
- Biology Labs On-Line is a collection of 12 web-based simulations for biology education: CardioLab, DemographyLab, EnzymeLab, EvolutionLab, FlyLab, HemoglobinLab, LeafLab, MitochondriaLab, PedigreeLab, PopEcoLab, PopGenLab, and TranslationLab. It is a commercial web site hosted by the academic publisher Benjamin Cummings and jointly owned by the CSU Center for Distributed Learning and the publisher. A site-license for any of the simulations costs $133 per year.
Pre/In-service Teacher Training for Noyce Scholars
The Chancellor’s Office of the California State University was awarded a grant from the NSF NSDL program titled “Building Locally, Linking Globally: Networking Micro-Communities of Noyce Scholars for Advancing Innovations and Improvement in Mathematics and Science Education.” The Virtual Courseware Project partnered with the Noyce-NSDL team to train Noyce Scholars in the use of Virtual Courseware. Several in-person and on-line workshops were held and training materials were developed which became part of the Noyce Teaching Commons. Workshops were presented at annual western regional meetings of the Noyce Scholars and the Virtual Courseware Project hosted a one day series of hands-on workshops for over 60 Noyce Scholars in the Southwest.
The partnership has been a win-win-win situation for everyone involved. The Noyce-NSDL leadership team added another high quality instructional tool into its portfolio of on-line resources. The Virtual Courseware Project disseminated its materials to science majors who are committed to teach in high need schools throughout the nation. Most importantly, in these times of tight budgets and burgeoning technology, Noyce Scholars have been introduced to free and effective on-line simulations which allow them to implement inquiry-based learning in their classrooms in a fun and tech-savvy way.
This is the second in a series of articles that highlight features of the Noyce-NSDL project.
The Virtual Courseware Project was funded by several grants from the National Science Foundation: DUE 94552428, DUE 9752603, DUE 9980719, ESI 0352529, and DUE 0735011.
Paul Narguizian is an associate professor of biology at California State University with expertise in science education.
Robert Desharnais is a professor of professor of biology at California State University, the director of the Virtual Courseware Project, and a member of CSTA.
Posted: Saturday, August 20th, 2016
by Lisa Hegdahl
I recently found myself a participant in two separate conversations regarding topics of which all California teachers of Science should be knowledgeable. One was in regards to the current status of the California Standards Tests (CSTs) and the other was in regards to High School course structures in light of the new California assessment for Science. As many of us will attend district, school, and department meetings in preparation for the new school year, updating our knowledge about the most recent decisions that will affect California Science education will be time well spent. Learn More…
Posted: Saturday, August 20th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
It is with great excitement that I began this post…700+ registrations for the 2016 California Science Education Conference, and we are not even at the end of August! We have not seen conference numbers this high since 2007, so I can tell already that this is going to be a big conference. I can understand why as well. Not only is implementation of California’s new science standards starting to receive some attention at schools and districts all over the state – but this year’s 2016 conference has undergone a transformation that is sure to provide attendees with the content, experience, resources, connections, and information they are looking for. In order to help you navigate all of the wonderful components of the 2016 California Science Education Conference CSTA has launched a brand new conference website.
With this many advance registrations, ticketed events are starting to fill. So if you haven’t already registered – I recommend you do so today. Not sure your principal or supervisor will approve or fund your participation? CSTA has developed a letter targeting leaders/administrators as well as complied useful information on how to fund your conference participation and a conference expense planner. You can find all three online. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, August 19th, 2016
The non-profit Synopsys Silicon Valley Science & Technology Outreach Foundation enables students and teachers developing science projects at more than 750 California schools each year. As teachers process methods to implement Next Generation Science Standards, we suggest that hands-on science projects and science fair competitions are the perfect vehicles for implementing NGSS. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, August 19th, 2016
by Karen Cerwin
“Students can’t yet write independently without basic sentence frames. Their thoughts are usually bigger than what they can put on paper.” – Kindergarten Teacher
This quote works for everyone; our thoughts are usually bigger than what anyone can put on paper! Yet, our job as educators is to help students learn to communicate their thinking in meaningful ways. One strategy is to use science notebooks in the classroom in a way that aligns with how scientists use their notebooks in their daily work.
Scientists use notebooks as a “thinking journal” in which they record observations, and thoughts about a phenomenon they are investigating. They propose ideas, research how others have thought about the phenomenon, do original investigations, edit and refine their thinking as they gather more data, generate more questions for further study. Scientist notebooks are living documents that reflect the author’s thinking. Thus their notebooks are unique and individual to that scientist’s ideas. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, August 19th, 2016
by Scott Campbell
I am a resource-level special education teacher. Like you, I teach students. As in most classrooms, my students’ skill levels run the gamut from very low to approaching grade level. Unlike you, I do not specifically teach science. Students in my resource program do not qualify for services in science. They qualify for services in the specific areas of reading, writing, math, listening, and speaking. They are pulled out of the regular education classroom for those services. I do my best to schedule these services so there is minimal disruption to you, but the number of students to be seen and the number of minutes available to me limits me. I want us to be partners in the education of our students and I need you to know that my students need to have science in your classroom. Learn More…