Helios Commits $495,000 to Florida State For STEM Computer-Based Modeling Program

Posted on: October 21, 2011

Until recently, scientists had two ways to work: conduct physical experiments or construct theories. Today, computers offer a powerful, third way: mathematical modeling using computer simulations. In fact, computer-based modeling now allows scientists to model and analyze systems on a scale far greater than was previously possible, offering the potential to revolutionize nearly all science disciplines.

A new project underway at the Florida Center for Research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (FCR-STEM) at Florida State University is preparing teachers to help middle school students acquire the math, science and computing skills they will need to enter STEM fields in the 21st Century. The project, made possible by a $495,000 grant from the Helios Education Foundation, is being conducted in collaboration with Citrus County Public Schools and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD).

"Studies show us that one of the most influential ways to improve student achievement in the classroom is to improve the quality and effectiveness of teachers in those classrooms," said Helios Education Foundation President and CEO Paul Luna."We are equipping middle school teachers with a higher level of content knowledge and teaching skill in STEM, and that combined with ongoing school and classroom initiatives, work to increase student achievement."

The project targets middle schoolers because they are choosing courses to take in high school that will influence their college and career paths. Students introduced to computational science early can develop new ways of thinking and problem-solving that are increasingly essential in the workforce. Thanks to SWFWMD's participation, students will work with data pertaining to local water resources, underscoring the real-world impact of science and math.

"Blending STEM teaching and learning is strongly supported by research on how students learn but we know little about how to prepare teachers to do it," said Laura Lang, director of the Learning Systems Institute (LSI), which houses FCR-STEM, and the principal investigator on the grant. "This project will develop and test a teacher professional development approach for students in the middle grades, a critical time for sparking interest in STEM and helping students understand first hand what the work of scientists is all about."

Computational science involves mathematical modeling of phenomena through computer simulations. Harnessing the power of computers and mathematical modeling, scientists can, for example, conduct simulated experiments to test the effects of removing water from underground aquifers, study the effects of nitrogen on seagrass beds or identify optimal levels of fish harvesting. Teachers involved in this project will learn to use the spreadsheet application Excel to manipulate and generate mathematical models, and to analyze data generated by their models or supplied by the SWFWMD. In this way, students and teachers will develop the skills to examine water management issues directly relevant to their lives, assignments designed to underscore the power and utility of computational science.

"This project will open the eyes of teachers and students to the amazing power of math and science to improve their lives," said Robert Schoen, associate director of FCR-STEM and co-principal investigator on the project.

Launched in July 2011 and continuing through summer 2013, the project focuses on the professional development of Citrus County math and science teachers who will be teaching the students in the study. The goal will be increasing teachers' content knowledge in the relevant subjects (the nature of science, earth science, life science and math) and creating teaching teams that develop lessons that integrate topics related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The sessions also will increase teachers' knowledge and use of mathematical modeling and computing (using Excel) to engage students in scientific inquiry. Totaling 120 hours, all professional development for this project is built around Florida's curriculum standards.
Also collaborating on the project are FSU's Office of Science Teaching Activities and Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science.

Category: College and Career Readiness

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