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TeraGrid Bridge Day

Our nation's capital was recently the backdrop for two conferences dedicated to the advancement of research, technology and education. The annual National Science Foundation's (NSF) TeraGrid conference, TeraGrid'09, and the National Education Computing Conference (NECC) were held back-to-back June 22 through July 1, 2009 in Arlington, Virginia. On June 25, TeraGrid hosted a Bridge Day event for middle and high school teachers to introduce them to resources for their classrooms -- a small sampling of the content offered by TeraGrid and its collaborators during the year through workshops and training for Kindergarten through twelfth-grade (K-12) teachers.

Bridge Day was developed in response to numerous reports highlighting the need for a larger workforce that possesses the quantitative reasoning skills necessary to enable parallel approaches to solving the world's science and engineering problems. The use of high performance computing (HPC) has become essential in research and development within academia, government, business, and industry. To prepare this workforce, there needs to be a broad and diverse population of students who are motivated and engaged with computationally-intensive research.

And yet, there is an enormous gap in the preparation of K-12 students who will eventually attend college and seek careers. For many youngsters, the technology of the information age is almost second-nature -- whether it's using a cell phone, MP3 player, electronic game, or social networking tool.

Even though students are extremely comfortable in this environment, many have little knowledge or interest in the computer science or the applications of math, science, and engineering that went into their creation and therefore most likely won't pursue related studies in college. Unfortunately, many of their teachers are insufficiently prepared to incorporate technology and computational thinking in today's classrooms. Consequently, fewer graduates, and a disproportionately low number of under-represented individuals, are entering the workforce with the knowledge and skills necessary for them to succeed in careers in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).

"We need to grow the next generation of computational scientists and encourage participation among under-represented groups," said TeraGrid Education, Outreach, and Training Director Scott Lathrop. "K-12 teachers are eager to take advantage of educational opportunities that will increase their knowledge of computational thinking and how to incorporate it into their classrooms -- while addressing the national and state learning standards that are essential to accreditation. Their students will, in turn, be more likely to pursue STEM studies and careers," Lathrop added.

Sixteen K-12 teachers from across the nation attended Bridge Day. Participants engaged with hands-on computational thinking, modeling and visualization resources and techniques.

"It isn't often that K-12 teachers have the opportunity to learn about technology and HPC from the experts!" said Bonnie Bracey, technology consultant and Bridge Day coordinator. "Our goal was to not only provide them with new tools, but to eliminate some of the fear and mystery surrounding HPC," she added.

Many computational experts who support the TeraGrid year-round were on hand to aid the teachers. With a nearly one-to-one ratio of teachers to pros, there was a wealth of interaction. In addition to learning from the experts, teachers were able to share their ideas for improving resources so they would be more useful in their classrooms. "The take-away from this was a lot more than a collection of resources -- it included an exchange of ideas and innovation," said Bracey.

The TeraGrid, sponsored by the National Science Foundation Office of Cyberinfrastructure, is a partnership of people, resources, and services that enables discovery in U.S. science and engineering. Through coordinated policy, grid software, and high-performance network connections, the TeraGrid integrates a distributed set of high-capability computational, data-management and visualization resources to make research more productive. With Science Gateway collaborations and education programs, the TeraGrid also connects and broadens scientific communities.

For more information about TeraGrid, visit www.teragrid.org.

Elizabeth Leake works for TeraGrid.org at the University of Chicago/Argonne National Laboratory and can be contacted here.

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