Teachers take a 'byte' out of computational modeling

Dec. 20, 2010

Science teachers (from left) Christy Tyler, Rodger Johnson, and Tiffany Burkle received funding from the SC10 Education Outreach Grant Program to attend the annual supercomputing conference held in New Orleans. (Download Image)

Teachers take a 'byte' out of computational modeling

Linda A Lucchetti, lucchetti1@llnl.gov, 925-422-5815

Three local teachers currently enrolled in one of the Lab's Science Education Program Teacher Research Academies were absent from their classrooms for a few days in November while attending the Super Computing 10 (SC10) conference in New Orleans.

Science teachers Christy Tyler and Rodger Johnson, who both teach in San Ramon, and Tiffany Burkle, who now teaches in Livermore, participate in the Department of Energy's Academies Creating Teacher Scientists (DOE ACTS)  at the Lab -- a three-year program that helps teachers progress as leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Burkle found information about the annual high performance computing conference's education program and the three teachers then submitted an application to attend. They were thrilled not only to be invited, but also to learn that their expenses would be paid by the SC10 Education Outreach Grant Program.

The conference's education program is designed to introduce high performance computing (HPC) and computational tools, resources and method to educators. The program also assists integrating HPC and computational techniques into their classrooms.

The three teachers are particularly interested in bringing the concept of computational thinking -- a logical thinking process and a new way of solving problems -- to their classrooms.  This means using similar operations as those found in computer science, such as designing systems, using abstraction and algorithms, and understanding logical relations to solve problems.

In explaining computational thinking, Johnson notes that students who struggle with math can increase their understanding using this concept because of its language base.  "It translates the math into words."

Tyler added that computational thinking brings "the abstract to the concrete."

Johnson said he and his colleagues interacted with teachers from Iowa, Maryland and from across the country at the SC10 conference.

"This is information we can use," Burkle said of the conference. "We are preparing our students for the future."

After the conference, the teachers returned to their schools ready to share what they had learned. "Because of my understanding and desire to introduce computational thinking to classes, I am often asked to teach additional classes," Tyler said. "My knowledge and confidence has inspired me to make it happen."

Richard Farnsworth, Livermore's  science eductation manager, said he was very happy that the trio got the chance to experience the conference and learn more from fellow educators and scientists. Farnsworth is currently working to create a new Teacher Research Academy area -- one that focuses on putting a computational model in science education. 

If you are a Lab scientist who is interested in sharing your expertise with teachers during the summer, contact Farnsworth.

For more information about the Teacher Research Academy at LLNL, go to the Teacher Research Academy Website.

Tags: teachers