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Broader Impacts Summary for Research Project on MHD,
NSF, CBET-1336853


Viral learning for 7th graders of forces and energy using MHD as a basis to increase science literacy.  Through viral learning, we see an opportunity to bridge the gap between university research and middle school education, while simultaneously having a positive impact on STEM at many levels that address the mission of NSF Broader Impacts, including STEM education and educator development and increasing public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology.


Recent research suggests that instructional methods need updating in schools.  Content areas such as science, math, and language are no longer separate entities with independent goals.  Quantitative gaps exist in students’ abilities of critical thinking and problem solving, and that the most effective means of bridging those gaps is to give students real-life problems to solve within a team (collaborative) setting.132 These projects require students to take ownership of their learning, and they drive deeper understanding of the content being studied across multiple academic disciplines.  Technology education specialist John Sener133 suggests that students should create their own educational material online as a means of increasing ownership of content.  These ideas, paired with those of Dr. Heidi Hayes-Jacobs,134 tend to suggest that the most valuable learning occurs when students work on detailed problems and share their knowledge with others through digital means.  Further, students will not only take ownership of their own education, but will also produce top quality work when they know that the public can comment.  In this setting, everyone is a member of the learning community, and thus learning is spread, “virally.”  Viral learning is a goal of The New School (TNS), and is currently under development and in a position to grow. 


Viral learning requires educators to develop three essential components for a successful science and engineering project.  The first component entails educators introducing foundational research that builds concept knowledge and basic vocabulary.  The students will be introduced to the advanced topic of MHD through a hands-on demonstration that was developed under funding of our previous NSF grant (CHE-0719097) and was received positively by TNS students. Pairs of students will follow step-by-step instructions from a handout, record observations, and answer questions on the generation of MHD in a salt solution in a petri dish using copper electrodes, activated with a D-cell battery, over a permanent magnet, and follow the spiraling fluid flow with food coloring. Basic vocabulary on electricity, magnetism, and fluid dynamics will be discussed while directing the conversation toward forces and energy.  Instruction will take place by UAF mentors (electrochemical and magnetism aspects) and MS&T mentors (fluid dynamics aspects) in collaboration with the TNS’s science, mathematics, and language arts teachers.


The second component is to build a true collaboration where students, mentors, and teachers work together to design a feasible, testable experiment, which is managed and conducted by students, and is based on a grade-level-appropriate portion of the entire MHD concept that ties into the existing curriculum. Mentors and teachers will guide students to redesign and repeat experiments, as necessary.


The third component requires students to communicate project results and information in the form of videos made by students for peers with their vocabulary and perspective. Students will script, edit, produce, and post to TNS’s Science Channel on YouTube and UStream for public viewing and commentary.


The project period for a given year is anticipated to take 2 mo., dedicating significant class time within the various subject areas to the project. Groups will meet with their respective MHD mentors to collaborate on their projects during a 2-h period each week via Skype, school visits, chats, and emails.  In year 1, 24, 7th grade students at TNS divided into groups of 4 will begin self-directed projects under the supervision of TNS teachers and MHD mentors.  In year 2, assessments from the previous project year will be used to refine the project.  In year 3, we will expand the program to 6th graders, with a focus on measurement.




Barron, B.; Darling-Hammond, L. Powerful Learning: Studies Show Deep Understanding Derives from Collaborative Methods 2008. (accessed 02/13/2013).


Sener, J. In Search of Student-Generated Content in Online Education e-mentor ( [Online], 2007. (accessed 02/13/2013).


About Curriculum21 (Mapping the Global Classroom of the Future) 2009. (accessed 02/13/2013).

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