Thursday, May 11, 2017

Fairview Student Helps Convert PhET Simulations

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*Photo courtesy of Andrea Lin
As part of our move to cloud-based resources, I understand the concern from our teachers about resources that aren’t yet fully cloud-ready. For example, PhET Simulations designed for K-12 math and science lessons were originally based in dated technology like Flash or Java which does not work on Chromebooks and iPads due to security issues.

Yet, the work to make these simulations ready for devices like Chromebooks and iPads has already begun! Recently, I met with Fairview High School Student, Andrea Lin, a high school intern for PhET at CU - Boulder. Her journey as an intern connects to the work PhET is now doing to to ensure their simulations are fully accessible from the cloud.

Andrea knows that she wants a career in Computer Science. Because of this goal, she is involved in a variety of CS-driven organizations and clubs both at Fairview and in the Boulder community. Through these avenues, she connected with Ariel Paul, Director of Development at PhET Simulations. After Andrea’s first month working on smaller projects, Ariel realized that she had potential to help with the conversion of PhET Simulations from Flash/Java to HTML5. Andrea joined PhET last summer as their first high school student intern.

DSC00971.JPGWhile listening to Andrea speak about this experience, it is clear that her passion and excitement for her work with PhET and her future career goals in computer science make her a powerful learner. Andrea had a limited knowledge of the programming language needed to port a simulation from Flash/Java to HTML5. Remarkably, she had to learn and teach herself JavaScript, the programming language needed for the development of these updated simulations. Andrea remarked that “I would learn something, read it in a book, and apply it the next day”. She went on to say that because of the value she placed on the work she was doing (making a PhET simulation available on all devices), the learning meant more to her and has stayed with her.

The on-time, on-demand access that Andrea has to learning resources, as well as the immediate need to implement this learning, is the driving force behind 1:Web in BVSD -- we want all of our students to have these kinds of meaningful learning experiences both inside and outside the classroom. The essence of 1:Web is access.

DSC01018.JPGFor teachers that use PhET Simulations for their students, many are already converted to HTML5, and can be viewed here. Many more are on their way. Recently, I’ve been in contact with Ariel Paul from PhET to discuss the possibility of speeding up the conversion process for the highest-need simulations. Supporting Ariel's efforts to covert to HTML5 is a priority for me as I recognize PhET simulations that don't run in the cloud are a barrier to our staff and students who would like to use iPads and Chromebooks to access these resources.

As for Andrea, I asked what her advice would be for the next generation of students passionate about computer science. Her face lit up as she shared her inspirational circles for this work. These include things like participating in math events, science fairs, math groups, computer science clubs, etc. Her recommendation is just get involved!

For the work in BVSD, it’s heartening to hear that our own students are working to provide the shift to cloud-based applications and resources. My previous blog detailed the move in BVSD to devices that need these kinds of resources. Andrea’s story, as well as the continued support from our educational community to work on this together, demonstrates that we are heading in the right direction.

Please chime in below with your thoughts and comments.