Corey Brady Addresses Audiences in Mexico on Learning Science with Computer Modeling

Corey Brady Addresses Audiences in Mexico on Learning Science with Computer Modeling

Corey Brady

Research assistant professor Corey Brady traveled to Mexico recently to share his expertise in computer modeling for engineering education. He gave a conference keynote, a workshop and a panel presentation — all at the Technological Institute of Madero in Tamaulipas, Mexico.

Keynote address
Brady addressed an audience of approximately 200 professors and students from across the region at the Second International Conference on Science Teaching. His keynote address on November 12 was on “Constructionist Learning: Modeling Complex Systems across the Sciences.”

Here, Brady presented design principles from Northwestern’s ModelSim project, describing the value of learning environments in which students model key scientific phenomena as emergent properties of physical and biological systems. For instance, using NetLogo software they can see natural phenomena like competition among organisms as an emergent effect arising from interactions among organisms and between organisms and their environment. And they can see physical phenomena like the pressure of a gas in a closed container as emerging from collisions among gas molecules and between gas molecules and the container walls.

Brady also discussed the use of engineering challenges as a framework for encouraging students to inquire into the mechanisms of scientific phenomena using computer models. Here again, he drew on experiences and examples from the ModelSim project. For instance, in one of the activities from the project, students used their understanding of the relations between pressure, temperature, and volume to design NetLogo virtual pistons and Lego mechanisms, connecting these physical and virtual components to create a prototype of a machine that would perform a specified task.

Curricula from the ModelSim project are in the process of being translated into Spanish for broader dissemination. The Technological Institute (Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey) is the premier university for engineers in Mexico. Its main campus is in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, and Madero has a smaller campus.

NetLogo workshop
In conjunction with the conference, Brady also introduced NetLogo computer modeling to professors and students of engineering through a 15-hour hands-on short course. The workshop on November 12, 13 and 14 focused on the use of NetLogo modeling across the sciences.

As a culminating project, participants produced their own models, starting with materials created in course exercises or models from the NetLogo library. NetLogo is an open-source agent-based modeling software that SESP professor Uri Wilensky first released in 1999 as a  tool for learning about complexity and emergence in elementary through university classrooms. NetLogo is also used by researchers in many research labs to model complex systems, primarily in the social and physical sciences.

Panel discussion
Brady joined four other presenters for a panel discussion featured as the final session of the conference on November 14. Their topic was the preparation and evaluation of engineering undergraduate students in the global environment of the future. Presenters were from Baja California, the CINVESTAV research institution in Mexico City, the Madero campus and a technologically advanced high school in the city of Madero.

Brady is a faculty member in the Learning Sciences graduate program at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP), where he is an associate in the Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling (CCL). He is also president and CEO of Inquire Learning.

As a strategic priority, the School of Education and Social Policy is developing a more global perspective to extend its resources, improve scholarship and address critical issues worldwide. Since NetLogo was introduced in 1999, the CCL has expanded its scope and utility for improving education through international collaborations.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 7/13/16