Institute for Chemistry Literacy Through Computational Science (ICLCS or “Icicles”)

Edee Norman Wiziecki
Meeting Materials

The Institute for Chemistry Literacy through Computational Science (ICLCS) is a National Science Foundation-funded MSP program designed to increase the chemistry literacy and chemistry-related pedagogical skills of rural Illinois high school teachers through the use of authentic and near-authentic computational simulation resources. As a true partnership with K-12 education, the ICLCS is an example of how higher education and K-12 schools can work together to improve student success.

For the past 5 years, we have partnered with schools to provide their Chemistry teachers with intensive, multi-year summer Institutes built upon existing, successful curricula and methods, enhanced with state-of-the-art science research data and applications for the 21st Century. During the academic year 124 teachers from 119 rural districts are connected through an online Professional Learning Environment (PLE) to support their growth as teachers and leaders.

Computational Simulation
Computational simulations are used to increase student interest in and understanding of chemical principles. In modern research, computational science is used to solve problems that are too fast, too slow, too small, too expensive, too complex, or too dangerous to solve using observational or experimental methods of science. The same is true in an educational context where students are able to “see” and manipulate molecules and chemical systems in a safe and inquiry-based environment. ICLCS scientists and faculty work alongside our high school teacher partners to develop materials and effective uses of readily available computational tools to improve student achievement and interest in STEM.

External Evaluation:
The ICLCS, using quasi-experimental, non-equivalent comparison group and multiple baseline research designs, has shown statistically significant improvement over time and in comparison to a matched sample of students in non-ICLCS schools in chemistry content knowledge as measured by the standardized high school examination of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Over 30,000 student test scores have been analyzed as part of the external evaluation.

A summary of recent evaluation results of teachers show:
Cohorts 1 and 2 made significant incremental improvements every year in the areas targeted by ICLCS intervention:

  • Higher mean scores on the ACS exam for teachers
  • Increased use of computational science tools in the classroom
  • Increased use of Inquiry teaching methods

In the academic year after Cohort 2’s final summer Institute (only cohort with PLE usage variables currently available), a hierarchical regression using only ICLCS-related teacher variables to predict their student ACS scores explained 56% of the observed variance in student achievement (56% = adjusted R2; cumulative unadjusted=63%). Incremental amounts: (1) 24% of the variance in student achievement was accounted for by whether teachers scored ≥70% on the Teacher ACS exam; (2) an additional 31% by the frequency of teachers’ use of computational tools in conjunction with alternative student-centered teaching (inquiry lessons as demonstrations & relatively structure inquiry class activities); and (3) an additional 9% by the number of times teachers viewed significant PLE posts.

According to self-reports, before ICLCS 91% of these teachers had poor or very poor skills using computational tools to teach general chemistry concepts, and afterward, 82% reported good or excellent skills. Before ICLCS 85% were not at all or somewhat confident employing alternative student-centered instructional strategies; afterward, 69% were confident or extremely confident.

Professional Learning Environment (PLE)
Often professionally and/or geographically isolated, rural ICLCS Fellows have communicated extensively through the virtual professional learning environment. Over the past 4 years (April 2007-May 2011), Teachers from all three cohorts logged in to the PLE 63,008 times, viewed discussions 310,218 times, and posted 21,235 forum posts. Findings on the PLE have indicated a significant relationship (p =.003) between changes in teaching practices and the amount of vicarious experience gained by participating teachers (N=56) through the PLE. Further, a positive correlation has been found between teachers’ participation in the PLE and their students’ achievement gains on the ACS standardized chemistry test.

Use of Computational Tools by High School and Undergraduate Students
A central goal of the ICLCS is to improve students' understanding of chemistry through the use of computational and visualization tools. One tool in particular is WebMO, a web-based interface that allows users to construct molecules, to perform computational chemistry calculations easily with research-grade software, and to visualize the resulting data. The WebMO interface hides the complexities of the data handling, thereby enabling students to focus on the chemistry content and enhancing the learning experience. To provide for a robust WebMO service for thousands of high-school and undergraduates, NCSA enhanced the original WebMO application to run in a "cloud" environment. This effort has resulted in a dynamic, highly scalable, high-performance computing service capable of providing computational resources for a vast number of student users.

Now in its fourth year of operation, this cloud-enabled WebMO implementation is host to over 4,600 accounts whose users have submitted over 130,000 jobs. Approximately 3,000 high-school students have logged into WebMO via individual or shared accounts. UIUC undergraduates use WebMO in an organic chemistry course.

The accompanying figure (see Program Description-pg. 6) shows the current usage history (jobs submitted) by high-school students (green line) whose teachers have been members of the ICLCS program (red line) and also by chemistry undergraduates at the University of Illinois and other institutions (blue line). Total usage of the NCSA WebMO server is indicated by the light blue line. For more information, please contact Edee Norman Wiziecki (