Modeling Across the Curriculum Project (MAC) at Northwestern
In the Modeling Across the Curriculum project, we enable students' exploration of computer models that are embedded in a supporting script. The Connected Chemistry learning environment is one such model-based curricular unit. Connected Chemistry employs multi-agent NetLogo models to empower the students' manipulation and observation of chemical “entities” at the molecular level as well as the resulting aggregate patterns. These models are embedded in Pedagogica scripts that guide the model exploration as well as asking students' questions about their exploration and findings.
Connected Chemistry (CC1) is a computer-based environment for learning the topics of gas laws and Kinetic Molecular Theory in chemistry. It views chemistry from an emergent perspective, how macroscopic phenomena result from the interaction of many submicroscopic particles. Connected Chemistry employs agent-based models built in NetLogo (Wilensky, 1999), embedded in scripts that structure and log the students'' activities. The mains goals of the Connected Chemistry curriculum (CC1) are the following:
Structure of the Curriculum
The structure of the curriculum is described, in terms of its main content and flow. Each activity includes an introduction that grounds the model in familiar physical phenomena, elicits prior conceptual knowledge at both the macroscopic and submicroscopic levels, assistance in understanding the model's representations and tools, embedded questions that range from simple facts to deeper causal explanations, guided and unguided (sandbox mode) model exploration activities, review questions and a summary. Several questions are in closed form, after previous versions were tested in open form, so that the script can provide guidance based on the students' choices. Screen buttons and links connect to a glossary of the scientific terms and a NetLogo hints dictionary. After an introduction, the sandbox model is always available for free exploration. Navigating within an activity is done with forward/backward buttons and through a menu. Throughout the first activities, model widgets are gradually introduced: from simple buttons to manipulated variables, monitors then graphs--first few, gradually increasing in number. Text scaffolds are gradually faded as the students become adept in using the model, observing and integrating its representations. As the supports are withdrawn, students' interactions with the models transition from guided to independent inquiry. Chapter one of the Connected Chemistry unit (CC1) consists of a sequence of seven activities:
More generally, the chemistry topics are set within a wider perspective of complex systems. The domain of “complex systems” has evolved rapidly in the past 15 years, developing novel ideas and tools, and new ways of comprehending old phenomena, such as weather systems. Complex systems are made up of many elements (often named “agents”, in our case, molecules), which interact among themselves and with their environment. The interactions of numerous elements result in a higher-order or collective behavior. Although such systems are not regulated through central control, they self-organize in coherent global patterns. These patterns are often counter-intuitive and surprising.
Scope of the project
Modeling Across the Curriculum project is a 5-year long research and
development effort aimed at:
This project seeks to demonstrate the impact of an effective use of technology (within a student-centered, model-based curriculum) upon secondary science learning and teaching.
The project results form a collaboration among three partners The central project site is the Concord Consortium, while the other sites include the Northwestern Center for Computer-Based Modeling and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. This partnership includes a number of secondary schools including Clemente High school and Park View school in Illinois, together with the Fitchburg Public Schools, the Lowell Public Schools at Massachusetts, and other schools that particpate in the project.
To review the instructional units or to
use the units in your classroom, register yourself or your school at
the Modeling Across the
Curriculum portal to download the Pedagogica software you will
need to run the activities on your computer.
Current Research and Development
At this time, the project development is directed at completing the design of the chemical reactions unit based on research done on the implementations of the first gas laws unit and the subsequent analysis of student logs. We are currently analyzing large amounts of student logs that include information related to students' learning andtheir patterns of interactions with the NetLogo models.
Our current research involves assesing cumulative gains in learning, patterns of inquiry with computer based models, transfer and retention of content knowledge, motivation, epistemology of science and modeling skills that are related to students' modeling over a broader time-period within the different topics in the MAC curriculum.
The CCL development team has created a number of chemistry units using design principles and research findings gathered from this project. These units include a mix of wet labs, homeworks, student readers, in class activities, and computer based models. The first of these units covers the topic of gas laws. The second of these units covers the topic of chemical reactions. For more information about these units see the Connected Chemistry project
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S.T., & Wilensky, U. (2005). Students' patterns in exploring
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Levy, S.T., Kim, H.
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Modeling Across the Curriculum is funded by the Interagency Education Research Initiative (IERI), a jointly supported project of the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Education and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, under NSF Grant No. REC-0115699