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Malagon Among Group of Scholars Awarded $450,000 NSF Grant

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National Science Foundation funds STEM-based mathematical-modeling project


Batten Associate Professor of Mathematics Audrey MalagonUniversity News | May 31, 2019

Dr. Audrey Malagon, Batten Associate Professor of Mathematics at Virginia Wesleyan, is among a group of scholars expected to receive continuing grant funding of up to $450,000 from the National Science Foundation. She is part of a teaching community called SIMIODE (Systemic Initiative for Modeling Investigations and Opportunities with Differential Equations), who together with support from the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education program, is working to develop a mathematical-modeling approach for the first undergraduate calculus course.

Work began on the project—entitled "Building Community Through Systemic Initiative for Modeling Investigations and Opportunities with Differential Equations (SIMIODE)"—in March 2018 and to date has received $303,700 in funding. In addition to Malagon, the project is under the direction of investigators Brian Winkel (Principal Investigator), Patrice Tiffany, Therese Shelton, and Corban Harwood.

Introductory calculus is an important course in undergraduate STEM curricula, says the project abstract, and the design and teaching enhancements proposed in the project have the potential to increase the retention, graduation, and quality of STEM majors nationwide. The mathematical-modeling approach to differential equations uses best practices in STEM undergraduate teaching: it is hands-on, problem-based, inquiry-driven, and incorporates group learning.

The project will create teaching materials that focus on real-world data and encourage students to transfer knowledge between mathematics and other disciplines. It will also combine in-person and virtual support for faculty seeking to adopt a mathematical-modeling approach in their own classrooms. This support includes workshops, panel discussions, presentations at regional and national conferences, and mentoring in an online community. Different levels of faculty engagement will be supported (some will introduce a few modeling activities into their classes while others will complete a full curriculum shift to mathematical models), and the project will conduct research on the efficacy of specific approaches to faculty development.

The first part of the project has focused on the development of peer-reviewed, open-source teaching materials that will be made available to the public through SIMIODE's HUBZero platform. It will allow users and authors to share comments, modifications, and extensions of the material. The project will also promote awareness of this modeling approach through dissemination of teaching materials at conferences. Secondly, the project will provide initial and long-term support for faculty development via an online community and in-person workshops. These workshops will focus on incorporating these materials into courses, thus encouraging a sustained pedagogical shift from technique-driven to a model-driven approach. Summer workshops and annual mini-courses at national conferences will demonstrate the modeling approach to teaching differential equations and will provide in-person mentoring and support to faculty adopting this approach.

An assessment team will review the effectiveness of the online communities and in-person workshops throughout the project so the program staff can modify them to provide the best support. The project is expected to conclude in February 2021.

Learn more about SIMIODE at simiode.org