October 2014 – Vol. 27 No. 2

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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Last Days to Register for Amazing Pre-Conference Field Trips

Posted: Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

October 31, 2014 is the last day to register for one of two amazing pre-conference field courses being offered by CSTA. The field courses will take place on Wednesday, December 3, the day before the NSTA Long Beach Area Conference.

2014 Long Beach Area Conference — CSTA Pre-Conference Field Courses

Marine Science Adventures on Catalina Island

© Anne Maben – Photo courtesy of CSTA member Anne Maben.

Located on Catalina Island just 20 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, Big Fisherman’s Cove is the site of the famed USC Wrigley Marine Science Center, an international research and teaching facility. After a general tour of the facilities and touch tanks, teachers will participate in an ecology and island history walk and hear the latest research on sharks from world-renowned expert, Dr. Chris Lowe. Teachers will also tour and learn about the hyperbaric chamber that saves divers’ lives and explore tiny critters in the plankton lab. Participants may jump into a wetsuit and enjoy a guided snorkeling tour in pristine kelp beds, under the guidance of USC dive instructors or venture on a guided kayak tour off the beautiful coast of Catalina. What a day! Please wear slacks, close-toed shoes, a jacket, sunscreen and bring a bathing suit and towel if you plan to snorkel or kayak – cameras, binoculars and hats are a big plus! If you are prone to seasickness, please bring medication.

Wednesday, December 3, 6:30am – 5:30 pm

CSTA Member/Nonmember Fees: $60/$75 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.

Sessions for All Grade Bands and Disciplines at NSTA Conference on Science Education in Long Beach

Posted: Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Here are some of the many exciting events you can expect at the NSTA Area Conference on Science Education in Long Beach this December 4–6:

Register today for the most savings! Our Earlybird Deadline ends October 24.  – Remember CSTA members: Select the “NSTA Affiliate Member Rate” when registering to save $90 on registration.

Register 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.

NGSS Science & Engineering Showcase – Call for Proposals

Posted: Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

CSTA Members: You are invited to submit a proposal to showcase your classroom-tested NGSS, STEM, or Engineering unit, lesson, or project at the CSTA Night at the Aquarium. Submit a proposal for the Showcase today and share your experience with your colleagues. Showcase presenters receive a free ticket to the event! Submit a proposal today!

Proposals will be accepted September 24 – October 20. Notifications regarding the status of proposals will be distributed via email on October 27, 2014.

Proposal Guidelines and Information:

  • You must be a member of CSTA to submit a proposal.
  • We are looking for educators who can showcase an engineering/STEM/NGSS unit, lesson(s), or project that directly apply to classroom instruction. Preference will be given to those proposals that integrate the three dimensions of NGSS.
  • You will be provided with a 6’ table top.
  • You are expected to post your handouts on the event’s Edmodo site. This must be done a week prior to the event.
  • The evening will be divided into two, 90 minute “shifts.” Each shift will allow for 20 minutes of set-up, 60 minutes for “presentation,” and 10 minutes for clean-up. If accepted, your showcase will be assigned to one shift, allowing you the other 90 minutes to enjoy the evening’s events as a participant.
  • If possible, bring hands-on supplies/manipulatives (not handouts) or examples (videos, photos, student work, other) for attendees to see/use during your discussions.

Submit a proposal today

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.

Call for Nominations for the 2015-2017 CSTA Board of Directors

Posted: Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementation planning for the Next Generations Science Standards and implementing its new strategic plan. If you are interesting in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration.

Nominations for the following positions on the CSTA Board of Directors are now being accepted:

Directors (with the exception of the president-elect) will serve a two-year term beginning July 1, 2015, and ending June 30, 2017. 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.

NGSS PD Coming to Fairfield and Walnut

Posted: Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

CSTA_CASCD

CSTA and CASCD have teamed up to bring you and your curriculum developers a one-day professional learning opportunity. Both CSTA and CASCD members may register at member rates. Event dates and location are:

Introduction to the Next Generation Science Standards: A Paradigm Shift in Teaching and Learning
This full-day workshop will highlight the many shifts required of both teachers and learners under the Next Generation Science Standards. In the morning session, participants will engage in an overview of the NGSS and its Three Dimensions. During the afternoon sessions, participants will be invited to experience either a K-5 or 6-12 session. Each of these sessions will further explore the NGSS with an emphasis on the impact it will have within K-5 and 6-12 classrooms. 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.