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Bridging the Gap: Envision Explore Engage Software Beta Released

Collaborating for Clarity
An Inclusive Project

sk middle schoolers what they think about math and science, and too many will answer that it’s "hard" or "boring." To bridge this gap between science and students–especially girls and underrepresented groups– Rozeanne Steckler and team at SDSC are creating Envision Explore Engage, or E3, an innovative multimedia educational package that introduces students to computational science in those crucial middle school years when they are making basic life decisions about whether science and math are in their future. To seek important feedback from teachers and students on both content and technical issues, the team has now released the beta version of the software.

E3 Virtual Tour of SDSC
Machine room diagram from virtual tour of SDSC included in E3 multimedia curriculum. On the tour the user can explore the different types of supercomputers and other computational resources maintained in SDSC’s machine room. In addition to basic informational about supercomputers the tour also provides information about special features of the machine room including fire suppression equipment, cooling systems, and raised flooring.

"We’re very excited to have the E3 beta available. It’s popular and we have distributed more than 500 copies at the National Science Teachers Association meeting and elsewhere. Teachers can try out E3 with their students and send us feedback on what parts work well in their class and what could be improved, which will really help the final version," said Rozeanne Steckler, project leader and SDSC senior scientist.

The E3 beta release includes the core computational science and the molecular science CDs, and can be obtained free by sending e-mail to The final version will also be Web accessible.

Scott Tooby, a sixth grader trying out the beta version, said, "I really like to play ‘Beat the Heat’ and the other games. These games make you think, and the explanations helped me understand how things like heat, cold, and insulation work."

E3 grows out of Steckler’s long experience in developing effective education programs such as the SDSC Science Enrichment Program, a local program that has matured and is now being applied nationally. E3 is part of the NSF PACI efforts to transfer knowledge of computational science to the K-12 educational arena.

"The first thing we found with E3 is that, because computational science is a relatively new field, almost no one knows what it is, so there’s a learning curve. In brainstorming with teachers, we got the idea for EnVision for Kids, and this developed into the Envision Explore Engage interactive project to connect science to kids’ interests," Steckler said. With funding from NPACI, Steckler and her colleagues set to work.

Collaborating for Clarity

From the beginning Steckler saw E3, like computational science itself, as a collaborative project involving teamwork between computational scientists and educators, as well as mentoring the students participating as multimedia developers to make the project a reality. "We’ve all learned so much working together on this project. There’s nothing better than this kind of ‘learning by doing’ experience," said technical director and producer Anne Bowen, who is also a computational science graduate student with Steckler at San Diego State University.

The team found that the best approach is to have scientists assist teachers in creating the content. For the unit on molecular science, NPACI computational scientist Arthur Olson of The Scripps Research Institute teamed with award-winning educator Anna Wilder, who prepared the unit in alignment with national standards in science.

"E3 is designed to be flexible, and can be used for individual, hands-on learning or as a teacher-guided class activity," Steckler said. The team approach also extends into the classroom and family, with project guides for teachers and parents, and curriculum activities for class and after-school science programs.

"The chance to make a real difference in education is a great motivation to continue in this direction," said recent UCSD graduate and Web developer Jason Wiskerchen. "We plan to release the final version of these two units in August, and see this as open-ended, with a third unit on engineering coming in the fall."

An Inclusive Project

A key goal is inclusion, and the software will be accessible on the Web for those who have fast enough Internet connections. To make the program accessible to as many schools as possible, the software is also being made available on CD for both Windows and Macintosh, including some older machines. -PT

Rozeanne Steckler
Michael J. Bailey