Science Education:
Teaching Materials

Eric Williams (left) and Melvin Spurlock, graduate students at Alabama A&M University, help perform materials research at ORNL's Surface Modification and Characterization Research Center. Here, Spurlock examines a sample in a target chamber, which will be implanted by ions from an accelerator.

One of the first lessons we learned in kindergarten was to share. ORNL researchers have often shared their knowledge of how to "do science" in a laboratory setting or in the field. All we need is an interested audience. Because DOE seeks to improve science education and encourage students of all ages to specialize in science and engineering, a large fraction of our audience includes students and faculty from elementary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities. Some of them help conduct experiments in the labs, getting hands-on experiences; others are eagerly learning in classrooms, often with their hands up. For everybody it's usually an interactive experience, because many teachers and students do real work and provide fresh ideas—they give something back to the Lab.

Materials Science Alliance. Thanks to an educational and research collaboration begun in 1995, minorities will have a greater chance to explore materials. In October, a new Materials Science Alliance was planned as a partnership involving ORNL's Solid State Division, five materials-related DOE user facilities at ORNL, and historically black colleges and universities and other minority educational institutions throughout the southeastern United States. About 100 academic and governmental participants attended the planning meetings in Oak Ridge, which were supported by DOE's Division of Materials Sciences. In 1995 the Solid State Division managed a collaborative research program with Alabama A&M University in which eight students participated in ion implantation research at the Surface Modification and Characterization Collaborative Research Center.

Minority students are exploring materials, and
teachers are learning leadership skills.

Teacher Leadership Institute. Teachers in junior and senior high schools can reinforce their knowledge of science by doing experiments in the laboratory or field. Such exercises could strengthen their teaching skills. So could knowledge of innovative strategies for transmitting science concepts to students and better ways to evaluate whether the messages are received and understood—and to follow up if they are not.

During the summer of 1995, ORNL's Office of Science Education established a three-year, secondary-level Teacher Leadership Institute. It is supported by the 13-state Appalachian Regional Commission, which since 1991 also has sponsored an on-site Summer Science Honors Academy, conducted in cooperation with ORNL's Metals and Ceramics Division. In the three-week residential program in Oak Ridge, small teams of teachers participate in "research immersions" in five ORNL divisions to improve their knowledge of science content. In one example, a high school teacher worked with a researcher to produce an educational demonstration video on high-temperature superconductivity. The teachers also go to class to learn leadership skills to help them better share their science knowledge with their students.

Next article