MSUToday
Published: Aug. 17, 2017

$1.2M NSF grant helps integrate computational science into high school physics

Contact(s): Val Osowski College of Natural Science office: (517) 432-4561 osowskiv@msu.edu

The 21st-century scientific world revolves around computation. Yet, teaching students to use a computer to solve, simulate or visualize science problems is glaringly absent from many high school science courses.

Four Michigan State University researchers are setting out to change that. They will use a three-year, $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to integrate computation in science classes across Michigan – specifically, in physics. 

“Physics work is impossible without the use of computation, which has been central to understanding many aspects of the physical world – for example, the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson and the 2016 discovery of gravitational waves,” said Danny Caballero, principal investigator and assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. 

This NSF grant supports a collaborative project between MSU’s Colleges of Natural Science and Education called Integrating Computation in Science Across Michigan, a research-practice partnership between university researchers, curriculum developers and researchers in physics, and high school physics teachers. The project will act as a catalyst for reframing how high school students are taught physics in mid-Michigan. 

“High school physics courses are beginning to emphasize modeling, which helps students develop intertwined conceptual and mathematical descriptions of physical phenomena,” Caballero said. “The practice is similar to the way physicists study various systems, but it is missing one key ingredient of modern science practice – computation. Developing a computational description of a physical phenomenon opens the door to modeling all manner of complex and exciting phenomena.”

The team will design a professional development program to equip high school physics teachers to engage students through computational activities. 

Additional team members include David Stroupe, assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education, Niral Shah, assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education, and Paul Irving, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Four school districts have already committed to participate in the program – East Lansing Public Schools, Holt Public Schools, Plymouth-Canton Community Schools and Divine Child Academy. The ICSAM team expects 12 teachers per year to participate, and will continue to recruit teachers in mid-Michigan throughout the three-year program.

For more details, go to website.

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