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Simulating Diffusion: A Scaffolded MATLAB Assignment

Dr Susan Gentry | University of California

Simulating Diffusion: A Scaffolded MATLAB Assignment

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Incorporating computational activities in the materials science curriculum is vital for students' preparation as "technically agile" [1] members of a modern engineering workforce. However, one significant barrier to implementing discipline-based computational modules is the programming ability of students. Some students lack the expertise to code simple routines, even with prior programming coursework. To support these students, assignments can be scaffolded to incrementally enhance students' abilities in preparation for their final project. Scaffolding is an educational framework that emphasizes designing activities to help students gain skills and knowledge that is needed to solve more complex problems [2].
This talk presents the scaffolding of a project which culminates in students simulating diffusion in MATLAB. Intermediate assignments bridge students' limited programming knowledge with the skills needed for their final two-dimensional simulation.
The modules are as follows:
- Module 1: Introduction to MATLAB - Students watch videos and complete interactive MATLAB tutorials, then perform simple programming assignments.
- Module 2: Introduction to the Finite Difference Method (FDM) - Students are introduced to finite differences, then apply the method to calculate derivatives and predict reaction concentrations over time.
- Module 3: Simulating Diffusion in One Dimension - Students implement the FDM to simulate diffusion along the x-axis [3].
- Final Project: Simulating Diffusion in Two Dimensions - Students extend their code from Module 3 to include diffusion in both the x- and y- directions. Scaffolding can be utilized to support students when designing programming-intensive learning activities.
References: [1] A Report of the National Science Foundation Advisory Committee for Cyberinfrastructure, National Science Foundation, 2001. [2] Hammond, J. and P. Gibbons, "What is scaffolding?", Scaffolding, ed. J. Hammond, 2001. [3] Thornton, K., University of Michigan.