Seeing is Believing
Maryland students use computer simulations to supplement the real thing.
Maryland Virtual High School
What they did: Created web-based virtual science simulations and lesson materials for chemistry, physics, biology, and earth sciences
How to do it in your school: Experiments and materials are available for free download at mvhs1.mbhs.edu
How to see it in action: mvhs.mbhs.edu/riverweb
Charlotte Trout’s science students at Williamsport High School in Maryland don’t attend science lab for any longer than the average student. But they complete two or three experiments during the time that most other classes would only get to one.
The reason? They reinforce a hands-on, “wet” lab experiment with two or three computer simulations that graph out the results of different variables in seconds. “The simulations aren’t replacing hands-on experiments, but they extend them tenfold in a short period of time,” Trout says.
The computer models, which imitate anything from enzymes to gravity and ecosystems, were developed through Maryland Virtual High School, a consortium that includes Williamsport and a dozen other Maryland schools. The funding—$3.5 million in grants from the National Science Foundation over the past 13 years—paid for computers and networking, expensive modeling software, and professional development, according to project director Susan Ragan.
Although there has been no formal analysis of the simulations’ impact on comprehension, Trout believes that they are boosting learning skills. Students are asking higher-level questions about what the numbers mean or questioning the reliability of a particular model, she says. For example, an earth science class will run simulations on carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere and then ask about the trend and the projected impact on global temperatures.@