“Molecules and Minds: Optimizing Simulations for Chemistry Education,” is a $1.1 million, three-year grant to develop effective chemistry simulations for a broad range of high school students, including underserved and underachieving learners.
New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education and College of Arts and Science (CAS) will collaborate on “Molecules and Minds: Optimizing Simulations for Chemistry Education,” a $1.1 million, three-year grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences and its Mathematics and Science Education Research Grants this month to develop effective chemistry simulations for a broad range of high school students, including underserved and underachieving learners.
The grant involves a blend of expertise found across three Steinhardt departments and within CAS. Principal investigator Jan Plass, associate professor and director of NYU Steinhardt’s Program in Educational Communication and Technology in the Administration, Leadership and Technology Department, will work with Steinhardt’s assistant professors Bruce Homer of Applied Psychology and Catherine Milne of Teaching and Learning, along with Trace Jordan, assistant director of the core curriculum in CAS.
Under the grant, the group will enhance the computer simulations used in chemistry education to make them more interactive and exploratory, as compared to current models which are often fairly abstract and hard to manipulate.
“We have a real problem attracting people to degrees in the sciences nationwide,” says Jan Plass “We want to design educational tools for a broader audience, so that more students can benefit from them and even learn to enjoy the sciences.”
Plass also directs the Consortium for Research and Evaluation of Advanced Technologies in Education (CREATE), which is engaged in research on the design and evaluation of online learning and other emerging advanced technologies. Founded by Plass four years ago, CREATE unites researchers in projects to apply cognitive science to the use of educational technology and to also advance it. “We have a dual purpose in how learners process multimedia information, and implement findings in a real learning environment,” he says.
“I see our work on this grant as an intersection between basic and applied research, Homer, whose work focuses on cognitive development and the symbolic understandings of children. “This project can help us answer the question of how we can improve chemistry education, and how the mind works of how students make sense of visual simulations.” Plass, Homer, Milne, and Jordan, along with NYU graduate and undergraduate students, will take their enhanced models into the classrooms of New York City public high schools. Four schools Landmark High School, Beacon High School, East Side Community High School, and University Neighborhood High School have already expressed a strong interest in being involved in the project.
“In this study, we’ll take a theory of learning and use it in representations that we think will be educationally useful and then take them to the schools,” says Milne. “Then we’ll see if what we think is useful actually works in school settings. That’s what is so exciting to me.”
Jordan is interested in the project because it bridges the divide of cognitive science and the practice of teaching science. “It puts together theory and practice in a creative way. It looks at what students are learning in multimedia simulations in chemistry and how those simulations can best be designed for a diversity of student learners.”