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Syracuse University Physics Department Science Teachers Workshop celebrates 10th anniversary
Syracuse University Physics Department Science Teachers Workshop celebrates 10th anniversaryFebruary 09, 2002Judy Holmesjlholmes@syr.edu
Put 20 high school physics teachers in a classroom; add reams of tissue paper, scissors, glue and thin copper wire, and mix well. The result: 20 hot air balloon models the teachers can take back to their classrooms to help their students learn about the world around them.
The hot air balloons were part of the agenda for the February Science Teachers Workshop sponsored by Syracuse University’s Department of Physics in The College of Arts and Sciences. The Physics Department is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the free, monthly workshops, which are held on campus throughout the school year. The workshops give middle and high school physics teachers opportunities to share ideas, learn new teaching techniques and to learn about new developments in the field.
Both veteran and new teachers from all over Central New York participate in the workshops. Some have been coming since the beginning. They all say the workshops offer a rare opportunity for them to mingle with other physics teachers, and that “Make and Take” projects, like the hot air balloons, are valuable additions to their classrooms that, in many cases, would not have been possible because of local budgetary constraints.
“A lot of the curricula materials I use in my classroom have come from ideas I have gotten at these workshops,” says John Darrah, a physics teacher from New York Mills (N.Y.) High School. “The workshops offer us a great opportunity to see what other people are doing and to find out what works.” Darrah has been attending the workshops almost since they began 10 years ago.
“Physics teachers are usually the only ones in their schools in the field,” says Joan Taber of Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School, who has been coming to the workshops since she saw her first workshop flier seven years ago. “There’s no one to bounce ideas off of. The workshops offer us an opportunity to share ideas.”
Workshop topics are geared specifically to the needs of high school teachers, says Allen Miller, associate professor of physics at SU. Miller coordinates the workshops with help from physics department lab manager Sam Sampere and faculty members Chris Kautz, John Fitzgibbons and Joe Drenchko. Both Fitzgibbons and Drenchko are retired high school teachers who, between them, have more than 70 years of teaching experience.
“The workshops provide a unique opportunity for physics teachers to interact with each other,” says Marty Alderman, instructional specialist in Fayetteville-Manlius (N.Y.) High School. “Major conferences are expensive. The workshops are free and focused to what high school and middle school teachers are inclined to want.”
The workshops are based on a model developed by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). Some of the funding for the “Make and Take” projects comes from the AAPT. Past projects include a “Bring in and fix your Van de Graff,” and creating a pan flute and a fan car.
“Teachers don’t have large budgets for these kinds of things,” Sampere says. “We try to figure out ways to do the projects as simply and inexpensively as possible so that the teachers can recreate the projects with their students.” Sampere and Carl Preske, a retired high school teacher from G. Ray Bodley High School in Fulton, N.Y., coordinate the “Make and Take” projects.
“Sam is the king of “Make and Take,” says Kevin Murphy of Baldwinsville High School, who has been attending the workshops for about six years. “Most of the toys I use in my classroom, I got from here.”
The workshops draw an average of 20 to 30 people each month, and the topics vary. The February workshop included a presentation by Richard Pilgrim, John Empie and Ann Baldwin of the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University about career opportunities available in the field of ceramic engineering and a discussion of a proposal for an engineering competition in area high schools.
The March workshop will focus on a new physics teaching technique called the “Modeling Approach” and will be presented by Jane Conroe, a science teacher at Maple Grove High School in Bemus Point, N.Y., and Fran Leary, a science teacher at Troy (N.Y.) High School. The program is based on modeling workshops sponsored by the National Science Foundation that are held throughout the United States. The presentation at SU is sponsored by a grant from the New York State Section of the American Physical Society.
In April, the workshop will focus on a discussion of the new curriculum and testing requirements for high school physics mandated by the New York State Department of Education.
“We try to introduce ideas at the workshops that are based on physics education research,” Kautz says. “We present research-based curriculum that is designed to serve as a model for the classroom. The research seeks to identify the difficulties students have with concepts in physics. We then use the results to design curriculum to address those difficulties.”