June/July 2016 – Vol. 28 No. 10/11

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.

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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.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Opportunities for Teachers to Play a Part in CA-NGSS Implementation

Posted: Friday, June 24th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) could use the help of a few good science teachers that know a thing or two about the California NGSS. There are currently two test development groups that they are specifically seeking science teachers for. If you are interesting in helping to shape how California prepares its future teachers to take on NGSS, this is an excellent opportunity. The CTC is recruiting teachers to pilot and review test items for the CSET and for Content Expert Panel members for the redevelopment of the California Teaching Performance Assessment (CalTPA). Please consider these opportunities and apply today – the recruitment window closes soon, don’t delay! To apply and for more information visit http://www.carecruit.nesinc.com/.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Science Education Leaders to Convene in San Diego – Will You Be There?

Posted: Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

ACT NOW! Offer expires June 26, 2016. Flinn has partnered with the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA) to promote a limited-time offer for those interested in attending the Summer Leadership Institute this month.

Call for Free NSELA Membership and Save $225 on Your Registration! The National Science Education Leadership Association is offering this exclusive opportunity to attend its annual Summer Leadership Institute, June 28 – July 1, at the Marriott Mission Valley Hotel in San Diego, California. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

California Teachers: Register Today for Unique Day of Learning

Posted: Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

BetterTogetherAs California embraces new ways of teaching and learning, teachers want more opportunities to connect with and learn from their peers. Teachers are the experts when it comes to the California Standards – no one knows more about what’s working in the classroom and where more support is needed. Yet, too often, teachers are told what they need to learn, rather than asked what would benefit them the most.

On July 29, all California teachers are invited to attend the second annual Better Together: California Teachers Summit, a unique day of learning led by teachers, for teachers. The summit will bring together teachers at nearly 40 locations across the state to share ideas, join a teacher network, and learn effective strategies for implementing the new California Standards in their classrooms. The program will feature keynote addresses by education leaders, TED-style EdTalks presented by local teachers, and Edcamp discussions on timely topics such as the California Standards in English/Language Arts and Math and the Next Generation Science Standards. Teachers will walk away with access to new resources and concrete tools that are already working in classrooms across the state. The Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU), the California State University (CSU), and New Teacher Center (NTC) are partnering to organize this gathering. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Biology and Chemistry Equal…Climate Change?

Posted: Monday, June 20th, 2016

by Minda Berbeco

A few years ago, I was at a teacher conference in Atlanta representing my organization, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). I was chatting with a teacher and mentioned how I was going to be giving a talk shortly on climate change education, and the teacher to my surprise said to me, “well I teach chemistry, so that’s not related to me.”

That was a bit of a head-scratcher for me, and I’m sure that notion would be a surprise to every atmospheric chemist who works directly on climate change, or even the many oceanographers, terrestrial and aquatic biogeochemists and even soil scientists who work with climate change every day.

On retrospect though, I think I understand what he was getting at. Climate change isn’t in the chemistry science standards for any state. They aren’t in the life sciences standards for most states either. In fact, until recently if it was anywhere at all, it’d be in earth science or environmental science – which is often an elective at many schools. And yet, from a study that NCSE completed this past year in collaboration with researchers at Penn State, we know that over 50% of chemistry teachers are teaching climate change nationally and over 85% of biology teachers are doing it too! Learn More…

Written by Minda Berbeco

Minda Berbeco

Minda Berbeco is the Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education and is CSTA’s Region 2 Director.

High School Questions About NGSS – A Statewide Conversation

Posted: Monday, June 20th, 2016

by Christie Pearce and Marian Murphy-Shaw

The California Science Teacher’s Association is made up of a wide range of individuals and institutions passionate about promoting and supporting science teachers and high quality resources for science education at all levels. It is well known that TK-12 teachers are CSTA members, you may also know that local science centers are members, along with private and Community College, CSU and UC faculty, but did you know that many of your local County Offices of Education have staff who are members?

In this collaboratively composed article, two county office of education colleagues, from opposite ends of the state have combined forces to connect California science teachers with one more resource; your local county office, or county department, of education. While CSTA has 4 identified regions in CA, the 58 counties are part of an 11-region public education system. At these offices your county STEM or Science Coordinators, Educational Services Directors, Curriculum Specialists, Grant Directors and more often serve in multiple roles, many working directly with teachers, TOSA’s, coaches, principals and science education partnerships. Across the 11 regions these “county folks” collaborate, share resources and work directly on projects such as the CA NGSS Rollouts with statewide entities such as the California Department of Education, Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee (CISC), CA Science Project, and West Ed’s K-12 Alliance. (A listing of key science contacts at each of these entities has been compiled by Anthony Quan at the Los Angeles County Office of Education and is available here.)

Questions about what high schools can and should be doing with NGSS seem to be ever increasing- both in number and complexity. CSTA asked if we could compile what the counties are hearing, both the questions and the answers. We started by connecting with our colleagues across the state and asking what questions and concerns they hear most often. If it makes our high school teachers feel any better, you are certainly not alone in wondering about NGSS. Below we have compiled questions and responses. We have tried to replicate the best information we have on hand as of this writing, but also acknowledge that the most important thing to remember is that all of this is still a work in progress. The UC has not finished updating “a-g,” CA science credentialing is being revised, NGSS “content” in 9-12 will look different over time, but that is not going happen in all CA high schools for several years at least. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.