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.
Introduction to the Next Generation Science Standards: A Paradigm Shift in Teaching & Learning – Two Locations
Posted: Tuesday, August 19th, 2014
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.
This workshop is co-hosted by CSTA and CASCD – members of either organization may register at the member rate! Registration for the full day is only $90 if you register by the early bird deadline and includes lunch.
Participants will leave with:
- An awareness of the NGSS and its Three Dimensions as they reflect the interconnected nature of science as it is practiced and experienced in the real world
- An awareness that the Performance Expectations will guide instruction and assessment
- An awareness of how the NGSS is aligned with the Common Core State Standards
- An awareness that the NGSS supports 21st Century Learning
Presenters: Jared Marr, Staff Development & Curriculum Specialist and Michelle French, Staff Development & Curriculum Specialist at the Tulare County Office of Education Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
Hosted by CSTA and the Aquarium of the Pacific, sponsored by Chevron.
Thursday, December 4, 2014, 7:00-10:00 PM
It’s a Night at the Aquarium! Unlike the movie by a similar name, we don’t need movie magic for this place to come alive at night. You will be surrounded by the amazing living creatures from the Pacific Ocean. See what they do at night (certainly not grading papers).
Join your CSTA colleagues and conference attendees for an amazing evening at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. Just steps away from the Convention Center and area hotels, the Aquarium will be all ours for the night. You will be able to wander through the aquarium, see sharks, touch rays, observe jellies, see the newly born penguins and all the other wonderful animals who make the LBAOP their home. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
by Laura Henriques
It is early August as you read this. For lots of people, August means summer vacations. For educators, however, August means it is time to begin another school year. I tend to think of the start of the school year as New Year’s Eve. My husband, also an educator, and I toast the start of the school year in ways that most people toast the start of a new calendar year. We reflect on the past year and set goals for the year ahead. Just like New Year’s resolutions, the act of setting educationally related goals helps keep me on track. My New Year’s resolution of going to the gym five times a week may not pan out, but having committed to improve my level of physical activity has been clearly stated and set as a goal. Similarly, as I set my goals for the academic year I am making a commitment to do something to improve my practice, my skills, or content knowledge. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
by Jill Grace
I kept hearing about it for years. THE NOTEBOOK. It sounded interesting, it had good research street cred, everyone seemed to rave about it, BUT…I was intimidated. What is up with the input-output stuff? Besides, I was already doing a good job teaching, right?
It wasn’t until one particular bunch of kids in one particular school year that I realized I NEEDED to take the plunge. It was no longer an option. It was a tough group that year. I found I was hitting my head against the wall trying to help some underachieving students be successful. I figured that if the “Interactive Notebook” (which I will refer to as IN) was good for improving the literacy of students learning English then it had to be beneficial for all students. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
by Lisa Hegdahl
I enjoy my job. When someone mentions that summer is almost over, I imagine the well-behaved, cooperative students that will be joining my class, just like the ones that I said goodbye to in June. Except…the students who will enter my classroom in August are not the students from this past June. It’s easy to forget that those students were well-behaved and cooperative because I taught them to be that way. Learn More…