Presenting at the 2018 UTeach Conference: Broadening Participation in STEM Education

The 2018 UTeach Conference was held in Austin, Texas on May 22 through May 24. In attendance were researchers, master teachers, in-service teachers, and pre-service teachers from around the country at the 44 UTeach replica sites. Dr. Walter Stroup and graduate students Jason Harron and Max Sherard were in attendance at the conference to present progress on work related to implementing Group-based Cloud Computing with pre-service teachers and updates and extensions of the GbCC technologies. The two formal sessions and one informal session which were held throughout the week are described below.

Session 1: Project-Based Instruction Pre-Conference Course Retreat

Tuesday, May 22nd, Dr. Walter Stroup, Jason Harron, and Max Sherard were in attendance at the Project-based Instruction (PBI) Pre-Conference course retreat. Attending the pre-conference course retreat were faculty instructors of PBI from UT Dallas (2), UT Colorado Springs (2), University of West Virginia (2), and a other institutions (3). Representatives from these institutions introduced problems with their local PBI courses and presented potential solutions to workshop with the group.

Max Sherard and Dr. Walter Stroup presented GbCC capabilities as a way to unlock the true potential of PBI by providing an easy to use, easy to author, platform for exploring and learning about emergent phenomenon. Emergence is a way of thinking about many systemic phenomena; for example, how birds flock or how ecosystems change over time. However, teachers and students can find it difficult to explore emergent phenomena in the classroom because of time or resource constraints. Max demonstrated GbCC models developed to explore the extinction of wolves and its impact on elk and aspen populations, and Dr. Stroup demonstrated the new GeoGebra integration which allows GbCC users to flip between GeoGebra and NetLogo within the GbCC platform. A discussion was held after the presentation to generate possible questions pre-service teachers could explore using Project-based Instruction.


Presentation can be found here.

Session 2: Extra-GbCC Session at Night

The PBI pre-conference course retreat was a short 45 minutes. To give people an opportunity to tinker more with GbCC models, a night session was offered by Dr. Walter Stroup and Max Sherard from 7pm until people were ready to leave. A representative from UT Dallas and two faculty instructors from University of Kansas were in attendance. During the time, Dr. Stroup lead the participants in the GbCC Disease simulation (the HubNet Classic architecture) and GeoGebra x GbCC integrated tool (flat architecture). Participants played with models and explored patterns with the graphic outputs. A rich conversation was held around the graph of % infected produced in the Disease simulation. Individuals made predictions around whether hiding the infection icon (and thus representing the presence of a silent-disease carrier) would increase or decrease the acceleration of the rate of infection. Participants made predictions and discussed the implications for teaching math and science content. A participant from the University of Kansas highlighted how the initial conditions in the program produce a profound impact on the results - a feature of complex systems that is relatively could be difficult to discuss in the classroom without an example like this.



Session 3: Framework for Integrated Project-Based Instruction in STEM Disciplines

The final day of the conference, Dr. Walter Stroup, Max Sherard, and Jason Harron had a final opportunity to present during the last session of the day. In this session, around 30 participants had come to lean about a new book in development for Project-Based Instruction. Dr. Walter Stroup updated the crowd on the progress of the book and provided a link for participants to read the introductory chapters. Afterwards, Max Sherard began a presentation highlighting the ability of GbCC simulations to unlock curricula that is commonly unaccessible through more traditional forms of representation. Max began by discussing an issue he encountered while being a teacher's assistant to PBI in the Fall of 2017: student driving questions were shallow in terms of rigor and followed a nominally generative frame for engagement. He went on to discuss how emergent phenomena like the extinction of a species are complex and require the ability to model multiple agents and their individual behaviors, which is beyond the scope of typical ecological models like the diorama or food web. Similar to the first presentation, Max demonstrated multiple models made and edited by pre-service teachers to explore the complex variables involved in an apex predator's extinction. Once participants had a chance to play with the models, they were encouraged to discuss other driving questions that could be related to this content piece. Some driving questions participants came up with are below:

  • What happens to genetic diversity of the wolf population upon reintroduction?
  • How do wolf and elk reproduction rates differ - and how does this impact the population?
  • How similar or dissimilar was the reintroduction efforts of the Panther in South Florida?
  • How does the building of a road or other human-made barrier change the dynamics of this model? 
  • What about farmers? What are the impacts of humans who hunt and protect their cattle in the Yellowstone ecosystem?
  • Which amount of wolves produces a steady-state equilibrium? What about a dynamic equilibrium?

Quickly, participants realized the fractal nature of using GbCC models - users can continually ask more refined questions, and author new simulations to explore these questions - a central feature of Project-based Instruction.

Towards the end of the presentation, Dr. Stroup demonstrated the potential of integrating GbCC with GeoGebra, the most widely used online math platform for algebra and geometry. Participants were excited by the model's ability to bring exploration into the variables that produce similar-area triangles, and wanted to see more math examples.

Presentation can be found here.