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Assistant Professor Brian Gravel Lecture
Tufts University STEM Education Lecture Series
December 7, 2015 | 3:00-4:00pm
102 Halligan Hall

Computational Modeling as a Way of "Talking" Science

Computational modeling environments can serve as important components of the multi-representational toolkit of science. But like any representation, the meanings of computational models are far from transparent: they are embedded within social, symbolic, and material contexts. In this talk, I will present case studies of two different learning communities that each worked to adopt a participant-generated computational artifact as a shared representational tool that they used to communicate and reason about physical systems. In one, collaborating physicists and mathematicians used a Mathematica notebook to explore the behavior of liquid crystals. In the other, a fifth grade science class used a student-generated computer simulation to reason about the processes of evaporation and condensation. We show how both groups:
(1) developed a shared understanding of the computational artifact as a representational tool
(2) leveraged the artifact to focus their attention on their respective goals
(3) discussed the strengths and limitations of the architecture of the computational environment relative to those goals

I will highlight similarities and differences in how professionals and students took up these computational artifacts as shared representations, and discuss instructional implications given the increasingly computational and multi-representational focus of K-12 science education.

Brian Gravel is an Assistant Professor and Director of Elementary Education in the Department of Education. Beginning in 2011, Brian and colleagues developed the Elementary STEM M.A.T. program, which prepares elementary school teachers for engaging their students in the practices of science, engineering, and mathematics. The program focuses on (1) work in urban settings by leveraging a strong tradition of urban school partnerships within the Department, and (2) it leverages the ongoing research on STEM at the K-12 level by faculty and graduate students in the Department.

Brian's research focuses on students' representational practices in science and engineering studied using design-based research on learning technologies and socio-technical learning environments. This work builds on the development of SAM Animation, which is stop-motion animation software developed at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach. He is currently researching ways of fostering disciplinary engagement and modeling practices through the development of new technologies like SiMSAM. And, he is researching makerspaces as representationally rich learning contexts where we can learn how representations are constructed, used, and revised in service of making objects of personal and community value. These projects include NSF-funded projects STEMLiMS: Investigating STEM Literacies in MakerSpaces, and Engineering Inquiry for All in Nedlam's Workshop.