In May, 2008, Virginia Beach (Virginia) City Public Schools, in collaboration with the National Institute of Aerospace and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Langley Research Center, initiated the MODSIM Demonstration School Project at Ocean Lakes High School. The purpose of this three-year project was to use modeling and simulation as an instructional strategy within math and science instruction and to demonstrate ways to integrate math and science instruction through the use of models and simulations. A cadre of six teachers at Ocean Lakes High School was selected to participate in the project. This cadre consisted of three math teachers teaching Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Precalculus, and three science teachers teaching Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. The key features of the project included:
- the use of a variety of commercial and open source modeling and simulation software packages
- on-going professional development over the course of the school year to support the development of MODSIM-based lessons
- paid summer curriculum development
They began by informally mapping the curricula. A topic listing for each subject, organized by academic quarters, was developed. The teachers then correlated math and science topics, looking for connections that could possibly lead to integrated math and science lessons.
The next step was to review available MODSIM tools and identify a set of tools for year one. Based on the availability of software and previous teacher training, the following software packages were selected:
- STELLA®, a program for building models and simulations based on systems thinking/systems dynamics
- Interactive Physics, commercial software for students to build physics models and simulations
- Scratch, open source, object-oriented programming software
- Excelets, free, interactive spreadsheets using Microsoft Excel
- PhET, fun, interactive, research-based simulations of physical phenomena from the University of Colorado
- Explore Learning Gizmos, a subscription service that uses preconstructed models and simulations with accompanying questions and quizzes
Over the course of the school year, teachers began outlining and creating lessons that incorporated MODSIM as the core instructional strategy within the lesson. The teachers spent time individually and in math/science pairs brainstorming ideas for lessons. It was during this first year that the teachers involved realized the benefit of using the POGIL approach for designing effective MODSIM-based lessons. Over the course of the project, teachers received professional development in both software and inquiry-based lesson development and were also given time to develop lessons. A sample of some of the lessons developed, as well as a listing of some of the MODSIM resources available for use in the classroom, can be found at http://modsim.wikispaces.com.