HU Hosts Workshop on Physics Education

Teachers sharpening classroom techniques

For as different and apart as their worlds are — Fairfax, Va., and Bindura, Zimbabwe — Deborah Roudebush and Francis Mavhunga have a common goal in their roles as educators.

"We're trying to teach science the way science is done," said Roudebush, who teaches physics to high school juniors and seniors. "There's a lot of testing and troubleshooting."

In his hometown of Bindura, Mavhunga trains hundreds of high school physics teachers enrolled at Bindura University.

The two instructors are part of a group of educators participating in a three-week long particle physics workshop at Hampton University called the Associate Teachers Institute. Through discussions, lectures from university research physicists and lab experiments, the group hopes to learn teaching techniques that are more hands-on and appealing to students.

Trina Coleman, a physics teacher at the Governor's School for Science and Technology in Hampton, said her goal is to put her knowledge of nuclear physics to work in her classroom. She is completing work on a doctoral degree in nuclear theory at HU.

"My students are bright students," Coleman said. "I need to keep them challenged on a daily basis."

In the program's first week, the educators learned about Hampton University's participation in an international project to build one of the successors to today's particle accelerators and detectors at CERN, the world's largest particle physics center, near Geneva. These complex machines are the tools for scientists researching subatomic particles.

HU is one of about 15 universities in the country working to create the new, more powerful breed of accelerators.

The opportunity to learn firsthand about such challenging research is a unique experience, Mavhunga said. He plans to share that with his students, who will in turn teach about it when they become high school teachers.

"Students can read about this," Mavhunga said. "But it means more when you can talk to them about a topic with some expertise."

The group's field trip this week to Jefferson Lab was Mavhunga's first time near a particle accelerator.

"I learned so much more," he said. "You don't get that in textbooks."

QuarkNet, a teacher training program funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, sponsors the institute. Mavhunga is one of two educators from Sub-Saharan Africa joining several Virginia public and private school teachers this summer.

The ultimate goal is getting more students interested in learning about what makes up the universe, the forces that drive it and sparking interest in careers in the field, said Kenneth McFarlane, HU physics professor and mentor to the teachers in the institute.

Roudebush, who participated in the institute last year, returned as a lead teacher this summer. The experience has changed her style of teaching "tremendously," she said.

She replaced "cookbook labs" — experiments that require students to follow a specific order of steps — with presenting questions and letting students find their own solutions. It's a different way to learning, Roudebush said, but it teaches students to take risks and develop their own methods.

"It moves away from physics being this formidable, scary subject that you're not smart enough to take, to something that's accessible," Roudebush said. "Physics is one of the most fundamental sciences. There's a need to do this."

About the Program

* For more information about the Associate Teachers Institute or QuarkNet contact Ken Cecire at 728-6533 or by e-mail at ken.cecire@hamptonu.edu

* To learn more about QuarkNet visit the Web site at http://quarknet.fnal.gov — the site includes information on classroom projects teachers can do with their students.