Since 1992, the U.S. Department of Energy has been supporting an experimental computational science curriculum, which is currently being used in schools in five states: Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, and Tennessee. The project, titled Adventures in Supercomputing (AiS), is administered through three Department of Energy laboratories and two state universities.
This project has introduced teachers and high school students to computational science--a field of study that combines scientific inquiry, mathematical modeling, and programming. Students spend a full school year working on computational science projects of their own choosing, and they learn the tools necessary to support their efforts. The program was specifically designed to create interest in science and mathematical careers among girls and students of color, who are least likely to pursue higher level math and science courses; to participate in AiS, students need to have taken only Algebra I.
AiS students use the Internet as an integral part of their work. Most students have mentors, with whom they communicate through e-mail. Students join discussion lists, search Web sites of research institutions, and comb through data sets to learn about their topics. Often, their topics are closely related to areas of work that are currently important areas of cutting-edge computational research--such as genetics and materials design--and that are richly represented on the Web.
From the beginning, the AiS program staff has worked to develop a complete curriculum and to provide a range of resources and supports that enable students and teachers to succeed with the AiS program. These resources and supports include the following:
Access to computational tools--including networks--is integral to the educational goals of the AiS program and to the program's success. AiS simply could not happen without adequate and appropriate technology being available to the participating schools. In addition, the program staff support these teachers throughout the life of the program, with professional development and technical support. Consequently, students are able to produce project work that addresses complex problems of the students' own devising and to develop substantive understanding, over time, of their areas of inquiry.
In an evaluation of student learning in the AiS program (conducted in both 1993-94 and 1994-95), Honey, McMillan, Tsikalas, and Light (1996) assessed students' final project presentations. The presentations were systematically examined for variations in learning based on a range of demographic and contextual data. Using performance-based assessment measures, students' project presentations were videotaped according to a standardized format. A subset (n=139 in 1995) of students from the five participating states were required to present their final projects to an audience of Department of Energy program staff, state site coordinators, and their teachers. Videotapes were scored using established performance assessment criteria that looked at five dimensions of student work: understanding, critical thinking, clarity, teamwork, and technical knowledge.
Central findings from the project indicated:
Further, Honey, McMillan, Tsikalas, and Light (1996) emphasize that certain teacher characteristics were particularly important to supporting student learning in this technology-rich curriculum. Specifically, students did well when their teachers had some combination of the following characteristics:
For further information, refer to the Adventures in Supercomputing home page.