Teaching Computation in the Sciences

Concepts on this page were derived from participant presentations, discussions, and breakout groups at the 2015, 2016, and 2017 workshops.

Computation is the use of computers to perform calculations, model data, make predictions, and test hypotheses. Computational skills are necessary to apply quantitative skills in complex scientific contexts and with large data sets. Computational thinking requires students to be comfortable with language and tools, such as MATLAB, that enables them to express and explore solutions to scientific problems. Computational skills can be applied to scientific tasks such as exploring equations, acquiring and visualizing data, writing scripts and functions, and statistical analysis. With unprecedented data availability there are numerous new science and engineering opportunities if one has computational skills. Computation also help students reinforce and improve their math skills and gain a deeper understanding of foundational scientific principles. Improving students' abilities to explore, analyze, and solve scientific problems, as well as deepening their understanding of math and their scientific discipline highlight the need to incorporate computation into undergraduate science programs.

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Approaches to Teaching Computation

MATLAB is powerful tool for teaching computation because it allows for robust data analysis, data visualization and exploration, modeling, and working with real data sets. If the use of MATLAB is scaffolded in a course or curriculum, it is a tool that can help students develop computational skills and build self-efficacy. When combined with collaborative learning techniques and effective assessments, MATLAB can be a useful tool for teaching computation. In addition, it is user-friendly and there is a low threshold for incorporating MATLAB in the classroom. The low threshold is highlighted in the getting started with MATLAB section with presentations on the range of MATLAB teaching capabilities and a list of resources for MATLAB training.

Skills and Techniques

Teaching Strategies

Teaching Collections and Materials

Explore teaching activities, essays, and course descriptions submitted by educators.

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MATLAB based activities, laboratory exercises, projects, and other assignments.

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Educator perspectives on how teaching with MATLAB can enhance student learning.

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Course descriptions and syllabi for STEM courses on (or that integrate) MATLAB.

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