STEP: A Case Study on Building a Bridge between HPC Technologies and the Secondary Classroom

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Kris Stewart
Computer Science Division

Janet Bowers
Mathematics Education Division
Mathematics and Computer Science Department
San Diego State University

This paper discusses a case study that was conducted on a three year National Science Foundation in-service program called the Supercomputer Teacher Enhancement Program (STEP). STEP began in 1993 and continues today past the formal time of NSF support. The goal of this report is to document aspects of the STEP model that have enabled the program to build an enduring bridge between the technologies, researchers and staff of the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) and over forty secondary science and mathematics teachers and the learning environment of their classrooms in twenty-one schools from eight school districts in San Diego County. Two timely events added texture to this in-service program: 1) it was known at grant design time that SC95 would be held in San Diego and 2) the program began one year before NCSA Mosaic began the dramatic change in the way the public interacts with the Internet. NCSA Mosaic, and the other browsers that evolved, provided unexpected technologies that have had a profound impact on the classroom practice for the STEP teachers, as evidenced in this research. This paper documents how STEP adapted in the 1994 summer workshop to introduce this technology to teachers who had become comfortable with text-based tools for Internet access presented in the first July 1993 workshop. The personal interactions and lessons learned from STEP and its workshops in 1993 through 1996 and beyond are classified and quantified. This greatly influenced the design of a faculty outreach program to support undergraduate curriculum development for the Education Center on Computational Science and Engineering (EC/CSE), a partnership activity of the National Partnership for Advanced Computing Infrastructures (NPACI). This, in turn, led to NPACI educators' collaboration with educators from the National Computational Science Alliance (NCSA) to form the National Education, Outreach and Training program.
Computational_Science In-service_Preparation Internet WWW

1. Introduction

1.1 An Overview of STEP

From the 1993 Summer Workshop handouts [1], the goals of the Supercomputer Teacher Enhancement Program (STEP) were to:

STEP was initially written and designed by a team from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) and San Diego State University (SDSU). The grant provided three years of funding, from January 1993 through June 1996. The field of computational science was fairly new in January 1993, so materials were designed and written for the first workshop in July 1993. As a historical view of the Internet and computational science, these materials are still available, now via the Wide World Web. An overview of how to access these materials is contained in the Appendix of this paper [app]. Linked access for year 1 [2], year 2 [3], and year 3 [4] of initial NSF funding are contained in the references of this paper. Year 3 also inicluded a special presentation by Don Anderson, "Using HTML for lessons on stand-along computers", [5]. Using remaining funds from the NSF grant, a year 4 [5] summer program was offerred, by Anderson on advanced Web topics.

The program involved intensive summer workshops at SDSC, from three to four weeks in length, reinforced by six Saturday meetings during the academic year. When funded in January 1993, the program was widely advertised. Applicants applied to the three-year program as teams from the same school in accordance with the program goal of establishing a core group of evolving expertise at the distributed school sites. A fan out effect was designed through the grant providing further remuneration for the STEP teachers to prepare and present staff development workshops on the summer materials to reach other educators at their school site and beyond. This extended the outreach that STEP and SDSC were able to accomplish.

The following table summarizes the Timeline for the STEP program:

Time Frame



Lessons Learned


Spring Semester

6 Lead Teachers Plan activities for upcoming sessions
+ Lead teachers were essential for helping Stewart orient curriculum that would be helpful to high school teachers


Session I

1 week C

3 weeks of STEP

8 AM-4 PM

40 participant teachers (mostly science teachers, some math teachers) + 6 lead teachers What is computational science?

What is the Internet?

Text-based e-mail using Macs or PCs connected to Unix Machine (Software email package: Elm)

Internet-based freeware

FTP (anonymous)

Programming in MATLAB

+ Sessions take time, speakers need to stay for an extended period of time, cannot come in to give 1 hour guest lectures

- Sessions were very in-depth. The variety of software packages may have been somewhat overwhelming for those who were unfamiliar with general computer applications (e.g., using MATLAB, spreadsheets, and C programming)

- Instructional Sessions were long, and little time was left for open lab

- Programming content not applicable for all high school teachers


Academic Year

6 Saturday meetings

40 participants and administrators

1 Session for Administrators' briefing

Administrators were invited to see what participants had learned (held at SDSC)

Supercomputing '93 Education participation

Mosaic arrives; Stewart integrates this program into her Spring semester courses

+ Administrators were very impressed with progress and technology. These information sessions had a greater impact than just immediate interest in that it motivated many administrators to begin thinking about getting involved in the Internet.

+ Maintenance of community through telecommunications



Session II

3 weeks of instruction

9 AM - 1 PM

afternoon lab time

33 original participants;

7 new participants 5 Lead Teachers

(attrition due to personal commitments, etc.)

Review and update previous year to help integrate new participants.

Mosaic - provided GUI interface

Guest Speakers:
1) Dave Thomas - Montana State University- Brought in public domain software (Internet Tools, Viz Tools on diskette, collected from Internet)
2) Brian Lindow - Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory- provided software for Mac and PCs to connect to NESP Cray at LLNL. Data package queries could be made at local computer, then sent to NESP Cray at LLNL for crunching, then returned to local machine. Examples: Climate change, chaos, molecular models
3) Tony Freeman - Jet Propulsion Laboratory- brought remote sensing software and NIH Image to read SIR-C CD-ROM containing NASA data (e.g., to study deforestation in Rain Forest)

1) SIAM - Stewart sponsored 5 participant math teachers to attend annual meeting held in San Dieg
2) Randy Souviney - teacher educator from UCSD taught science teachers - introduced NSF Grant "Community of Explorers"
- also brought in PPP which improved connectivity, provided GUI

+ GUI interface was much more appealing

+ Mosaic enabled teachers to begin developing hypertext Web pages for classroom use

+ Connectivity limited in schools; therefore lessons concentrated on stand-alone applications (based on HTML)


Academic Year

6 Saturday Meetings

Participants and Lead Teachers

1 Session for Administrators' briefing

Planning of curriculum; review of prior activities. + Involvement of administrators in annual debriefing

- Many participants were not yet sponsoring their own in-service programs; although some were availing themselves of the SDSC facility to run seminars and classes



Session III

40 participants

and lead teachers

Stand-alone web development on machines with or without fast Internet connectivity prepared and presented by Don Anderson

NIH software became a helper application in browser tool

Guest Speakers:
Dave Thomas
Brian Lindow
Randy Souviney
Bill Barowy of BBN

+ SC'95 proved a motivating factor for supporting participants efforts to create for a larger community who came to San Diego to learn

+ Advanced HTML features were helpful for teachers' lesson planning

1995/96 Academic Year 6 academic year meetings

Administrators were invited to attend SC95

Supercomputing '95:

STEP teachers provide several workshops at the international conference on the tools they had learned to use and to share examples of the curriculum enhancements they made incorporating these technologies

+ Presentation using WWW to national audience served as strong motivator



(Extended session)

33 Participants and Lead Teachers Don Anderson developed and presented sessions regarding more advanced web development including use of tables, frames, Javascript, client-side techiques, server-side techniques and more + Participants were sponsoring workshops, others were writing grants, and arranging collaborative grants with outside community

Table 1. STEP Timeline

1.2 Significant aspects of STEP program model:

1) Participants received stipend (including summer workshop attendance, academic year meetings, planning and implementing for in-service programs).

2) Participants received continuing education units for attendance at each workshop.

3) Division of labor between grant administrators and STEP instructors supported efficiency and productivity of entire program.

4) Inclusion of school administrators proved essential for encouraging integration of Internet in school buildings and districts.

5) 2+ teachers from each school served to establish local support group at each site.

6) National recognition at 1996 Smithsonian/Computerworld Innovators ceremony, Washington, D.C., June 1996 [6].

2. Analysis of Case Study Data

In the following section, we attempt to document the variety of ways in which the respondents described their experiences with STEP. The data corpus consists of 33 letters [7] written in answer to the following purposely open-ended request:

Describe, in your own words, the impact of STEP on you.

The data analysis involved identifying common themes found in the 33 respondents' comments. Table 2 indicates the percentage of comments falling into 10 different theme categories. The first column of the table indicates the percentage of respondents mentioning a comment falling into that theme (out of a total of 33 respondents). The second column indicates the percentage of comments of that theme in relation to the total number of comments (223 total comments, which indicates an average of approximately 6-7 comments per response).


Percentage of Respondents

Percentage of Total Comments

Professional Growth/Improvement in Teaching



Inservice Programs



Ongoing HTML Projects



Curriculum Development



Expertise of Instructors and Guest Speakers



Personal Growth/Improvement of Self



Contributions to the school



Applications for/Procurement of Grants



Community Outreach



>Larger Education Community Work>



Table 2. Distribution of Comments Regarding STEP Program

2.1 Professional Growth/Improvement in Teaching

As Table 2 indicates, the largest category of responses included comments regarding professional growth. Many of the participants noted that the STEP program enabled them to rethink and consequently change their views of teaching. For example one comment stated, "This has been the best thing that has happened to me since I began teaching!" Others noted that the experience supported their belief that technology is an essential tool for teaching in the age of the Internet.

Other respondents in this category listed some of the professional recognition that they have received. All of those respondents indicated that they believed the awards were due, at least in large part, to their participation in STEP. These awards include: 2 recipients of the Tandy Educator of the Year, the 1996 San Diego Science Alliance Teacher of the year, the Global Internet Lead Teacher, the Mentor Teacher Award, and the California Science Project Mentor coach for Martin Luther King Middle School. As one recipient explained

Several respondents also noted that their participation in STEP lead to a variety of different collaborations including working with other STEP participants, other science educators who have responded to web pages that have been posted, other community organizations, other faculty at the same school, and other faculty at other schools (such as a local school of medicine), and faculty associated with the San Diego Urban Systemic Initiative program.

2.2 Inservice Work/Programs

One of the goals of the STEP charter was to support the dissemination of information through inservice programs. To this end, STEP participants were encouraged (and financially rewarded) to plan and implement programs for faculty at their schools, and at conferences. According to conservative estimates from the 33 respondents, a total of 5,941 teachers in the San Diego county have been affected by the STEP program through various inservice training sessions. The range of these programs runs from short 2 hour sessions to week-long sessions.

The topics covered included introduction to the Internet as a resource, HTML lessons for the development of personal web pages, Imaging workshops, computer applications for science workshops, and other workshops designed to specifically introduce various web pages developed by the participants. As one participant described her curriculum

2.3 Ongoing HTML Projects

Given that the thrust of years 2 through 4 of the STEP program focused on the production of HTML programs, it is not surprising to read about the accomplishment of personal goals. However, reading the participants' enthusiastic descriptions of their ongoing projects is overwhelming. Examples include: Mathematics education web site with K-12 resources and links to other sites; several "how to" HTML pages such as directions for using frames, directions for programming graphics with Pascal, and many others described below in the "community outreach" and "contribution to schools" sections of this report.

2.4 Expertise of Instructors and Guest speakers

28 of the respondents began or ended their letters with statements describing the expertise of the STEP faculty and guest speakers. These statements included "outstanding", "knowledgeable", "helpful", and "supportive". As one respondent noted

In addition, several comments indicated the important fact that the STEP instructors set up an atmosphere in which the teachers felt comfortable with technology rather than being intimated by it. In this way, the teachers felt that the program had dissolved the walls erected between classrooms and the wider education community. None of the respondents indicated any negative comments about the workshops, the activities, or the instructors.

2.5 Personal Growth/Improvement in Self

As noted above, STEP did achieve its initial goal of supporting professional development. However, 52% of the respondents also noted that they also derived personal growth and satisfaction from the experience of learning. In particular, 24% of the respondents noted that they "Went from little/no knowledge of the Internet to being viewed as an expert by peers". Others noted that they felt an increase in their self confidence which enabled them to organize large-scale programs and serve on committees dealing with technological innovation with increased confidence and expertise. For example, one wrote

In summary, the respondents indicated a great deal of satisfaction with their own progress and their abilities to continue teaching "on the cutting edge" of technology.

2.6 Curriculum Development

It is interesting to note the variety of ways in which the teachers have integrated technology into their curricula. The list includes adding activities that involve 3-D modeling, Spreadsheets, MATLAB, Simulations, Using HTML and web publishing to motivate students, Computer application, Internet Research for supporting content in Student projects (such as photosynthesis and animation), Internet-based course in which students design their own pages, Java programming, Remote scientific visualization course, 3-D applications course, GIS data analysis web site, and a school information site describing environmental information.

One example of an innovative curricular project was described as follows:

Another respondent noted:

2.7 Contributions to School

A second goal of the STEP program was to empower the participants to bring technology into their own schools. To this end, the participants were asked to bring their administrators to an informational meeting during the fall after each summer session. The goal of these meetings was to acquaint the administrators with the work and to elicit their administrators' support for integrating technology into their own schools. Five of the respondents (15%) indicated that their participation in the STEP program was an influential factor in procuring funds to have the schools wired for the Internet.

Other ways in which the respondents contributed to their schools include: serving as members of long-term technology planning committee (10%); designing web pages for the school or department and posting assignments to keep parents involved (10%), and setting up and serving as network director of a WAN or LAN (5%). As one respondent noted, "I have become an agent of change" at my school by holding weekly HTML courses. Another noted

2.8 Procurement of Grants

Ten of the respondents (30%) noted that they had been directly or indirectly responsible for writing and receiving grants to purchase equipment for their schools. Examples of these grants include State Grants for staff development and equipment purchase, Perkins Grant, Magnet grants for school, Grant for Faculty development with purchase of Laptops, Title 7 Grant for purchase of equipment, GTE Equipment grant, and a Marine Science Grant to support the development and maintenance of a web site for integrating technology into the science curriculum.

2.9 Community Outreach

As noted earlier, all respondents described ongoing projects in which they have been involved. Many of these projects have received national acclaim within the field of education. Examples include the TRITON project that aims to integrate Internet resources and research, the Global On-line Learning site, the WESST assessment tool, the Mathematics education site, and the Astronomy Site. All of these sites are designed to support other teachers' efforts to locate resources on the WWW. One respondent described his efforts to contribute resources by stating

Some examples that extend beyond the immediate educational community include a collaboration with the San Diego Water Authority, Action-oriented environmental projects, HUB Coordinator for SCOPE project in California, Portfolio projects, and the KidSat NASA project which involves having students use the path of Space Shuttle to request pictures of desired locations, the Frontiers for Science program, and the organization of several adult education classes.

One example of the highly innovative and influential projects was described by its author who stated

3. Impact of STEP on the Designers

3.1 Education Center on Computational Science and Engineering (EC/CSE)

The Education Center on Computational Science and Engineering (EC/CSE) has been established as a partnership activity of the National Partnership on Advanced Computing Infrastructure (NPACI). It acts on behalf of the California State Universities (CSU) System, the largest undergraduate system in the United States with an undergraduate enrollment over 225,000 (FTE, Fall 1996). The CSU serves a large, geographically distributed, racially diverse student population. The EC/CSE received strong support from the CSU Chancellor's Office to ensure dissemination over the entire state. The EC/CSE is located at San Diego State University (SDSU), the largest campus of the system with an undergraduate enrollment over 30,000 (Fall 1996), chosen due to efforts already completed in Computer Science, Physics, Chemistry, Geology and Geography to incorporate computational science into the undergraduate curricula. The EC/CSE, its staff and equipment are located in the University Library, a natural complement to the Data Intensive Computing thrust of the NPACI.

The EC/CSE develops and conducts seminars and focussed workshops covering topics from the NPACI Technology and Applications Thrust areas applicable to educators from the campus, the CSU, the NPACI and the National Education Outreach and Training (EOT) program formed jointly with the educators from NPACI and educators from the National Computational Science Alliance (NCSA). The EC/CSE uses SDSU as a model for outreach to faculty to become familiar and investigate the use and effectiveness of new technologies in their undergraduate curriculum. One current example from STEP involves STEP participant, Steve Wavra, and SDSC/NPACI researcher, Phil Bourne, using the Molecular Interactive Collaborative Environment (MICE) [8]. This involves collaboration between the classroom at Southwest High School, near the Tijuana Border, and Visualization Laboratory at SDSC, many miles away.

Stewart speaks to the Education Technology course on Instructional Design of Dr. Allisson Rossett, SDSU College of Education, Fall 1997. The text used in the course, Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching [9], provides a concise introduction to using some of the standard computer tools in instructrional design, and defines and describes the Learning Theories, Strategies for using Tools, and Techniques for Assessment used in this field.

3.2 ACM SIGCSE Research in Computer Science Education

Participation this year by Stewart [10] with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE) has made clear the close parallel between the strategic directions in computer science education [11] and research in computational science education. Computational science was called out as one of the key fields in the ACM Workshop on Strategic Directions in Computing Research [12,13]. The use of evaluation was summarized at an ACM Working Group meeting in Barcelona 1996 [14] and has immediate application to computational science education research. The SIGCSE97 Keynote Address was given by Professor Andrew S. Tanenbaum [15]. This was a particularly entertaining, and pertinent, presentation that the authors would recommend the Computational Science Education community use as a starting point for dialog on the impact of a technically evolving field on the learning environment which faculty can construct.


The obstacles preventing full integration of supercomputing resources in the secondary schools are extensive, but the design of the STEP program can serve as one viable model for empowering teachers, their peers and their students. The history of the project and the evolution of training materials are available to assist others who wish to extend the outreach of High Performance Computing. We plan to conduct further research on the EC/CSE program to document the ways in which this model can be adapted to the undergraduate education experience to build another bridge between High Performance Computing and the undergraduaate classroom.


1. Stewart, Kris, Supercomputer Teacher Enhancement Program, Summer Workshop, July 6-30, 1993, San Diego Supercomputer Center ftp access to the 1993 workshop introduction (an RTF file)

2. Stewart, Kris, STEP Schedule, July 1993 ftp access to the July 6-30, 1993 workshop schedule (an ascii text file)

3. Stewart, Kris, Supercomputer Teacher Enhancement Program, Summer Workshop, July 11-19, 1994 ftp access to the 1994 workshop introduction (an ascii text file)

4. Stewart, Kris, Supercomputer Teacher Enhancement Program, Summer Workshop, July 10-28, 1995 ftp access to the 1995 workshop introduction (an ascii text file)

5. Anderson, Don, Advanced Web Publishing and its use in the Curriculum, 1995 Introduction/1996 Advanced Topics

6. Computerworld/ Smithsonian,1996 Innovator nominee in Education & Academia, Computerworld/Smithsonian Institution permanent research collection/search under Archives/ 1996/ Education & Academia/ All Nominees/ STEP or go directly to the STEP materials from 96/96short/96ea27s.htm

7. Individual STEP participants, STEP Final Report http://www.stewar written by secondary Science and Math teachers who participated in the NSF funded Supercomputer Teacher Enhancement Program.

8. Bourne, P. Molecular Interactive Collaborative Environment, SDSC Research Project,

9. Roblyer, M.D., Edwards, Jack and Havriluk, Mary Anne, Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching, Prentice-Hall, Inc. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 1997.

10. Stewart, Kris, Computational Programming and Visualization, acmsigcse/ in the panel "Exploiting Computer Algebra Systems in Computer Science Course with Joseph J. Zachary, Phillip Miller, and Klaus Sutner http://www.csis.

11. Tucker, Allen B. (moderator), Roy Rada, Eric Roberts, Peter Wegner, Strategic Directions in Computer Science Education', panel discussion at ACM SIGCSE97, San Jose, CA, February 28, 1997, available len/sdcr/sigcse.html

12. Tucker, Allen B. and Peter Wegner, Computer Science and Engineering: the Discipline and Its Impact, in Tucker, Allen B. (ed.), CRC Handbook of Computer Science and Engineering, CRC Press, Boca Raton, 1997.

13. Wegner, Peter (ed.) ACM Computing Surveys 28 (4), ACM, New York, 1997.

14. Almstrum, Vicki L. (joint chair), Nell Dale, Anders Berglund, Mary Granger, Joyce Currie Little, Diane M. Miller, Marian Petre (joint chair), Paul Schragger, and Fred Springsteel, Evaluation: turning technology from toy to tool, Integrating Technology into Computer Science Education, ACM Proceedings, Barcelona, Spain, June 1996.

15. Tanenbaum, Andrew S.,Ten Golden Rules for Teaching Computer Science, Department of Computer Science, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, available from as beautiful PDF slides from author's page page under Talks - Keynote at CSE97 10 Golden Rules or online


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