Robert L. Vawter


Robert L. Vawter holds a B.S. degree in Education from the University of Tennessee and a Master of Music degree in Music Education from East Texas State University.  To prepare for teaching programming to high school students, Mr. Vawter has taken several programming classes at the University of Memphis, including Pascal and C++ .  He is currently teaching classes in VB.Net, Java, AP Computer Science, and web design/graphics. Mr. Vawter also serves as advisor for the award-winning Collierville High School Yearbook, a volume of approximately 400 pages that is produced using Adobe InDesign and Adobe Photoshop. In 2004, a team of his Java students won Best Overall Project at the Annual University of Memphis Programming Challenge, where students plan, design, document, and implement a game over a six week period. Mr. Vawter is in his second year with project Tri-P-LETS, and he currently serves as the liaison between the high school teachers and the investigators at the University of Memphis. This year he represented the teachers at the 37 th Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education in Houston and at the NSF Graduate Teaching Fellowships Meeting in Washington, D.C. Mr. Vawter is currently in his 30th year of teaching.



Serious Games to Enhance Science and Mathematics

Due to the increasing number of required topics for high school science courses, teachers may have difficulty covering all the material to their satisfaction. The situation is exacerbated because courses such as biology and chemistry require lab experiments to illustrate and clarify concepts, but activities are often too complicated to complete in one or two periods.

These concerns have come to our attention through project Tri-P-LETS (Three 'P' Learning Environment for Teachers and Students). Tri-P-LETS [1], an NSF-funded project, pairs computer science students (Fellows) from the University of Memphis with high school programming teachers in Memphis area high schools. The primary goal is for students to acquire better Problem solving skills, a firm foundation in Programming concepts, and experience using a disciplined Process for software development. A secondary goal is to provide students with realistic expectations about the computer science major. Students need experience solving problems in multiple domains; furthermore, computer science majors must complete a minimum of 30 semester hours in science and mathematics. Therefore, the principal investigator and Fellows have designed several modules for high school students where students interact or build 'serious' games (i.e. games that teach or reinforce mathematics and science concepts). The Tri-P-LETS modules consist of lesson plans, worksheets, and hands-on activities with simulation tools. Tri-P-LETS research over a period of two years has shown that this combination of teaching methods improves the effectiveness of teaching and student comprehension in the domains of discrete mathematics, (e.g., permutations and combinations [2]) and theoretical computer science (e.g., finite state and cellular automata [3]).

As a result of daily interaction with high school programming teachers and students, as well as conversations with biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics instructors at the high school and college level, the authors believe that realistic simulations can enhance laboratory experiences in science and mathematics courses thereby resulting in deeper learning. This Chat 'n' Frag, which targets high school science, mathematics, and computer programming teachers, will begin with introductory comments about our experiences using AgentSheets [4], a game-authoring and simulation tool as a mechanism to improve problem-solving skills. The majority of the session will be an interactive tutorial on AgentSheets, where participants will learn the basic programming constructs as they implement a simulation of the hydrological water cycle. Upon completion of the implementation activity, there will be a discussion of the game's implications in high school classrooms, as well as in informal learning environments. In the remaining time, participants will have the choice of working through another worksheet (either the DNA Tetris or the Dice Probability project) or playing a selection of 8 games from our Science/Mathematics gallery.

[1] Tri-P-LETS web site.

[2] Sherrell, L. B., Robertson, J. J., & Sellers, T. W. (2005). Using Software Simulations as an Aide in Teaching Combinatorics to High School Students, Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges, 20(6), 108-117.

[3] Thomas, Allen P., Sherrell, Linda B., and Greer, James B. (2006) "Using Software Simulations to Teach Automata", Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges, (in press).

[4] AgentSheets website.

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