Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, presents Science on Saturday, a series of lectures for middle and high school students featuring demonstrations related to the lab’s cutting-edge science. Here, students demonstrate how lasers are used to create fusion reactions. (Jackie McBride, LLNL)
“Many teachers and principals don’t know about the national laboratories,” says Susan Brady, department head of the Center for Science and Engineering Education at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in Berkeley, California. “I’d encourage teachers to look at federal agencies in their area,” she points out, noting that the 17 Department of Energy National Laboratories “all have a responsibility to give something back” to the educational community, and their resources “are usually free or very low-cost because they’re funded by your tax money.”
Brady continues, “We know the best way to learn science is to do it, and we want teachers and students to do authentic research in a setting where there is phenomenal research going on…I think a lot of teachers are looking for ways to answer the question ‘why do I need to know this?’ Researchers at national laboratories are actually using science to solve problems kids and their families face, such as ‘how do I heat my home?’”
A Berkeley Lab Educational Visit (BLEV) is one way teachers and students in grades 6–12 can experience real-world science. Because “we are a non-classified research lab,” visitors don’t need a high-level security clearance, says Brady. BLEVs “are customized to the group’s science focus,” so “if a physics class wanted to come, they could look at a specific topic in physics,” she explains. “We are one of the multidisciplinary labs, so we have pretty much everything in all fields of science happening here.” During the BLEV, visitors do a hands-on activity related to their scientific focus.
“Visiting kids can see that scientists work in teams while solving problems and using innovative, high-tech tools to do it. How cool is that!,” she exclaims.
LBNL’s Nano-High, a series of Saturday morning lectures presented in Berkeley and San Francisco by renowned scientists and professors, draws many high school students and teachers because “we get speakers who can really speak to general audiences, and their talks are not very technical,” observes Brady.
“Each one of the labs builds on the expertise of that lab…[This] creates unique lab programs,” observes Susan Dahl, an education specialist in Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory’s Education Office. The Batavia, Illinois, lab provides a variety of programs including field trips and workshops that “link students and teachers to the essence of Fermilab—science and technology of Fermilab physics and prairie ecology,” she says.
On field trips to Fermilab’s Lederman Science Center, students either explore exhibits designed to introduce them to particle physics or investigate Fermilab’s restored tall-grass prairie. Before the field trips, teachers attend workshops related to the programs, says Dahl. Workshop participants do several activities in instructional units designed by master teachers, get ideas for teaching the unit, and receive supplementary materials.
“We have a history of working from the needs and interests of the teachers,” so Fermilab regularly conducts needs assessments with teachers, she points out. Based on recommendations from local science, math, and technology teachers, Fermilab established the Teacher Resource Center (TRC), containing a collection of K–12 instructional materials and enabling educators to “see everything in one spot,” Dahl maintains. Open weekdays and by appointment on Saturdays, the TRC also offers professional development (PD) workshops and reference assistance.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Livermore, California, has a Teacher Research Academy (TRA) that gives middle school, high school, and community college faculty quality PD experiences in biotechnology; energy and environmental technology; fusion and astrophysics; and biophotonics. Richard Farnsworth, manager of LLNL’s Science Education Program, says the TRA was designed by a teacher working at LLNL, Stan Hitomi of the San Ramon School District, who thinks “most PD programs are kind-of one-off,” meaning the material is presented only once, thus easily forgotten.
Instead, the TRA has a five-level instructional program that teachers from “as far away as Hawaii” have attended, he notes. Level 1 develops skills and knowledge for teaching middle and high school science. Teachers can progress to a Level 2 workshop at the Advanced Placement/college level; a pre-internship program including job shadowing and lab safety training; and an eight-week mentored research internship with a $4,000 stipend awarded upon completion. Level 5 features follow-up instruction and a half-day workshop in which teachers bring students to LLNL. “The ultimate goal is to have teachers’ research experience get into the hands of students,” maintains Farnsworth.
Middle and high school teachers and students participating in Brookhaven National Laboratory’s (BNL) InSynC program formulate a hypothesis-driven scientific problem and write a competitive proposal to gain remote access to experimenting with beam line time at the National Synchrotron Light Source. Ken White, manager of the Upton, New York, lab’s Office of Educational Programs, says they experience “exactly the same proposal submission procedure as scientific staff do,” including “the rigor of peer review” by synchrotron scientists and science educators. “This is truly cutting-edge…Nobel prizes have been won for work on this light source,” he observes. “It creates a motivation and a new spark for teachers to use a machine like that.”
Another BNL program creates school, community, and government partnerships. K–12 students and teachers in the Open Space Stewardship Program (OSSP) do environmental research on undeveloped land owned by a public or private agency. The teachers train at BNL in field-research methods, then “we try to partner them with experts from their own communities to conduct research that is useful in managing those properties,” White explains. “The intent behind [OSSP] is it’s not just going out on a piece of property, it’s the authenticity—saving that data and continuing to monitor that property over a number of years…A kid might participate in third grade and might do it again in fifth grade, [which is] not typical of other environmental programs.” OSSP, he adds, helps “develop [students’] science skills, math skills, [and] their sense of civic responsibility.”
Teachers and students anywhere can use the resources some labs provide online. Fermilab’s Education Office website at http://ed.fnal.gov connects teachers with classroom units and activities and students with games, videos, information, and images. LBNL’s site at www.lbl.gov/Education has a video glossary of scientific terms, a virtual frog dissection kit, a nuclear science wall chart, and more.
Farnsworth notes a link on http://education.llnl.gov lets middle and high school students and teachers watch LLNL’s Science on Saturday lectures—which feature demonstrations that “make topics relevant to the kids”—on the University of California Television website. Classes also can tour LLNL’s Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry at www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjzKs4S47pM.