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The Shodor Education Foundation: Supporting Appropriate Uses for Technology in the Classroom

Bethany Hudnutt

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The Shodor Education Foundation is dedicated to helping educators and students at all levels understand and use technology appropriately in math and science education. This non-profit organization focuses on content, teacher, and student as the three elements essential in computational education. There are many higher level concepts now open to study at a younger age because of the computational power of computers. Shodor's projects extend educational resources and opportunities as far as possible. An emphasis is placed on science and mathematics explorations, developing numerical models and simulations integrated with the curriculum, professional development, and access to a network that supports their use in a learner-centered environment.


The current mantra in education is "technology, technology, technology." But teachers remain frustrated with technology because they do not understand when it is an appropriate tool to use. To teach a particular concept, sometimes the best tool to use is pen and paper, sometimes manipulatives, and sometimes a computer.

Many educational software developers do not understand appropriate uses of technology either. Much software is a drill and kill style: databases of practice problems with graphics and sound to make the experience more interesting to students. School administrators often do not understand how technology can be used, so they purchase these types of software and become frustrated because teachers are not using them.

In large part, teachers do not use technology because they can teach the same concepts in their classrooms without using a computer. There are many hassles in working with computers: technical difficulties, technical support if something goes wrong, security issues, etc. Large portions of class time are sometimes spent just getting students logged onto the machines. These issues coupled with software that only replicates what teachers already can accomplish in the classroom keep teachers from using computer technology.

But computers do have excellent applications in the classroom and can be time saving devices to teach concepts. Computers are designed to perform repetitious computation quickly. There are many concepts in science and math that involve a great deal of tedious computation. Teachers now have the power to teach those concepts without bogging down students in the details of those computations and can focus the lessons on the concepts instead.

Computers should not replace a student's understanding of arithmetic and algebra. Rather, when the arithmetic or algebra hinder the teaching of a concept because of the computation involved, the use of computers is appropriate and pedagogically invaluable. The study of probability at the middle school level offers an excellent example.

Students are taught how to compute theoretical probability and also told the more times an experiment is conducted, the closer the experimental probability will be to the theoretical probability. If a coin is flipped one hundred times, theory predicts the coin will land on heads fifty times. As a teacher with lots of material to cover taking the class time to have students flip a coin one-hundred times is not a feasible option and only a few flips of the coin will not suffice. Even if a student flipped a coin one-hundred times, they will not get exactly fifty-fifty because one-hundred is a small number of independent, random events. It may take thousands of such events to convince the doubting students a coin is fair or luck has nothing to do with the results. A computer can simulate flipping a coin thousands of times in a fraction of a second.

There are many higher level concepts now open to study at a younger age because of the computational power of computers. Modern science and mathematics are more concerned with pattern recognition and characterization than with mere symbol manipulation. The Shodor Education Foundation's mission is to help educators understand how to incorporate technology in math and science classes so students can study patterns difficult, if not impossible, to study without computers.

There are three elements essential to education and all three must be present and effective or education process collapses: content, teacher, and student. Shodor uses the framework of a tetrahedron as its symbol as a representation of these interdependent elements. The tetrahedron is the simplest and most stable of all regular three-dimensional solids. If any edge of the tetrahedron is removed, the solid collapses. Shodor's various projects each address all three essential elements and range from courseware development, online course development, conducting workshops for K-16 educators nationwide, and K-16 student development.

In support of Shodor's vision to permeate math and science education with computational science methods, Shodor always attempts to disseminate its resources as far as possible. The name Shodor recalls the role of the hammer in the shodering process of making and applying gold leaf. Gold leaf is gold hammered thin so it can cover an object. Similarly, Shodor works to extend valuable educational resources and opportunities as far as possible. A special emphasis is placed on enabling authentic science and mathematics explorations at all educational levels, developing numerical models and simulations integrated with the curriculum, professional development, and network access to support their use in learner-centered environments.

Below are brief descriptions of Shodor's K-12 projects, computational modeling tools and resources to support these projects, online course offerings, as well as undergraduate projects. Projects that support middle school math and science curriculum are noted in the descriptions. Links to the online materials and further information on the projects are also provided.


Modeling and Visualization Workshops for K-12 teachers

One of Shodor's expanding initiatives is offering workshops to introduce teachers at all grade levels to modeling and visualization technologies, techniques, and tools. The software used in the workshops concentrates on inexpensive programs commonly used in most schools or specialized software freely available on the web. Instruction stresses inquiry based learning. These workshops, taught by national leaders in the use of computing tools in science and mathematics, provide teachers with instruction and ideas on how to integrate these technologies, techniques, and tools in their own classrooms.

Workshop content is not predefined. Shodor will work with institutions in advance to develop an agenda appropriate to the needs of the participants. The workshops therefore simultaneously meet Shodor's intent of putting modeling and visualization tools in the hands of teachers while meeting the institution's goals and teacher needs.

The workshops may include the introduction of modeling software such as Project Interactivate, STELLA, Mathematica, Excel, and Geometer's Sketchpad. Workshops also involve teaching critical thinking skills when using numerical computation to know if solutions are correct.

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Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal
a service of NC State University, Raleigh, NC
Volume 5, Issue 1, Winter 2002
ISSN 1097 9778
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