A SPORE, Science Prize for Online Resources in Education from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), was awarded to the Open Source Physics (OSP) website founded by Wolfgang Christian and colleagues, Francisco Esquembre and Lyle Barbato.
Here’s an excerpt from the essay the three scientists wrote for Science magazine (published by AAAS) about their website,
Scientists routinely use computer modeling and computation in innovative research, including predicting the nature of He4 at extremely low temperatures and the impact of human activity on climate. Why does computer-based modeling remain absent from many educational programs?
The Open Source Physics (OSP) project, www.compadre.org/osp/, seeks to enhance computational physics education by providing a central Web site containing computer modeling tools, simulations, curricular resources such as lesson plans, and a computational physics textbook that explains the pedagogic simulations’ algorithms. Our resources are based on small single-concept simulations packaged with source codes that can be examined, modified, recompiled, and freely redistributed to teach fundamental computational skills. Students at all levels will benefit from these interactive simulations by learning to question and assess the simulation’s assumptions and output.
Students who learn physics concepts via static pictures may be led to construct incomplete or incorrect mental models that hamper their understanding of physical concepts.
The website is useful for university students although there are plans to make resources suitable for K-12 students, from the Nov. 24, 2011 news item on physorg.com,
Christian is currently working toward involving K-12 students, such as his wife’s middle-school students, who as seventh graders are learning about concepts such as temperature. Christian was able to adapt a college-level molecular dynamics simulation for them to explore changes in the phases of matter.
“The students could heat and cool the system, and then we could ask them questions like, ‘At what temperature does it melt?'” Christian says. “They got visual feedback from the simulation and had to make decisions about the basic concepts.”
The SPORE award is part of an ongoing initiative by Science magazine to recognize outstanding online science education efforts. From the Nov. 24, 2011 news item on physorg.com,
Science magazine developed the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education (SPORE) to promote the best online materials in science education. The acronym SPORE suggests a reproductive element adapted to develop, often in adverse conditions, into something new. Similarly, these winning projects can be seen as the seeds of progress in science education, despite considerable challenges to educational innovation. Each month, Science publishes an article by a recipient of the award, which explains the winning project. The article about Open Source Physics (OSP) will be published on November 25.
“We’re trying to advance science education,” says Bruce Alberts, editor-in-chief of Science. “This competition provides much-needed recognition to innovators in the field whose efforts promise significant benefits for students and for science literacy in general. The publication in Science of an article on each Web site will help guide educators around the globe to valuable free resources that might otherwise be missed.”