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: Friday, December 12th, 2014
by Lisa Hegdahl
Colleagues Helping Colleagues
I have been to so many California Science Education Conferences over the years that I cannot be certain which ideas I obtained in which year, but I do know that most of what my lesson plans contain came from ideas I acquired at those conferences. Destroying Water, Domino Derby, Student Periodic Squares, Buggy Car Physics, Valence Shell Ping Pong Balls, Vinegar/Baking Soda Conservation of Matter, Stellar Distances, just to name a few, were all given to me by colleagues that were willing to take the time to share a piece of their classrooms.
Your Great Idea
You know you have it. That lesson that never fails to engage students at a high level of learning; that teaching strategy that works every time; or that technology application that brought your classroom into the 21st century. Why keep it to yourself? Share it with your colleagues at the California Science Education Conference, October 2-4, 2015 in Sacramento. CSTA is now accepting workshop and short course proposals from classroom teachers, informal educators, university professors, education professionals, and other members of the education community. Sharing our best practices with each other helps to make high quality Science education a reality for all students in California. Learn More…
Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
by Jill Grace
There’s so much excitement lately in the world of NGSS. There is an energy I haven’t felt since I was a new teacher. It’s palpable. Teachers are once again the learners, outside our comfort zones trekking along a new path, making new discoveries, trying new things. Some of these new experiences are fantastic and fill us with a new sense of purpose and inspiration. Some end up being things we profusely apologize to our students for, “Sorry guys, that pretty much didn’t work out at all, let’s try this instead”. No doubt this is an exhaustive process, mentally and even sometimes physically, and on some days we might wish we could crawl up on our couches under that super fluffy blanket (insert comforting beverage of your choice) and forget that change is upon us. But it’s also exhilarating. It makes you feel alive again.
Given all of the changes, I have been feeling pretty comfortable. I thrive in “big idea land” and love weaving multiple layers into my instruction, so the whole 3D aspect to NGSS is gratifying to me (3D = the blending of Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Cross Cutting Concepts). I love the challenge of getting my students to the point where they have their “ah ha!” moment and see it all come together. With my background in marine biology, a very “integrated” field, I’ve had an easier time wrapping my head around the middle school progressions and seeing the connections in a way that I can tell is harder for many of my colleagues. I’ve been feeling pretty great about it all. Except for one tiny little thing.
Engineering. Learn More…
Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
by Laura Henriques
Happy December! I am exhausted but really happy after the Long Beach Conference. It was great to see so many CSTA members! With more than 5,200 people in attendance (most from California), this was one of the biggest NSTA regional conferences ever. Sessions were packed, some to the point of overflowing. I applaud NSTA’s efforts to extend the conference into Saturday afternoon and I thank the conference presenters who were willing to repeat their workshop on Saturday. (To get handouts from the sessions please visit the NSTA Conference site, browse sessions and select the session(s) of interest. If the presenter has uploaded handouts you will find them posted with the session information.) Learn More…
Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
by Jill Grace and Laura Henriques
Close to 700 science educators enjoyed an evening of Science, Engineering and STEM at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific on Thursday, December 4th. This great CSTA event was co-hosted by Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific and CSTA and sponsored by Chevron.
— Jessica ruiz (@Jruiz112) December 5, 2014
In addition to having the entire aquarium to ourselves, there were five scientists who gave talks, two dozen table-top STEM/Engineering showcase presentations and the LBAOP’s Science on a Sphere. After eating dinner, glowstick-clad attendees visited the penguins, jellies, and other exhibits representing marine life of the pacific. Learn More…
Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
by Jessica Sawko
CSTA is so fortunate to have so many hard-working and dedicated members. CSTA membership dues support the production and distribution of this newsletter, CSTA’s state-level policy activities, including NGSS implementation activities, the CSTA website, and a small portion of dues go to support our state-level legislative activities. 2014 is a special year for CSTA, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the filing to CSTA’s Articles of Incorporation. Many volunteer leaders were involved in that process 50 years ago and to this day it is volunteers that do much of the work of CSTA.
CSTA is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization and accepts donations to support our leadership programs, such as our leadership event held at the annual conference and designed to help nurture, inspire, and support California’s emerging leaders in science education.
As the end of the year approaches and you consider making contributions to charities and non-profits that support you and your values as a science educator, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to CSTA’s 50th anniversary fund. This fund was established at the beginning of 2014 and the monies donated to this fund support CSTA’s leadership development program. Donors who donate $50 or more will receive a commemorative 50th anniversary pin. Donations to this fund are tax deductible (please check with your tax-preparation specialist). Click here to donate online today.
If a donation to CSTA’s 50th anniversary fund is not a match for you this year, I hope you will consider supporting CSTA as you shop for holiday gifts (and year-round). Learn More…