Learning to Teach Physics (Daily Press)

Learning to Teach Physics

NN Teacher Takes Summer Physics at Jefferson Lab

To Kim Rosswaag, staying in school's as important for her as it is for her students.

To bone up on physics, which she'll teach this year to the Gildersleeve Middle School kids she had in seventh-grade last year, she invested four weeks in a Jefferson Lab program called Physics Enrichment for Science Teachers, or PEST.

The summer program, which ran from July 9 through Aug. 2, consisted of a mini-course in basic physics and included guest lectures on current research and discussions on how to improve physical science instruction.

When she taught physics at Gildersleeve during the 1999-2000 school year, it was the first time the 29-year-old Norfolk resident had dealt with the subject matter since her own elementary school days.

"I'll bring a lot more life to it this time around," she said one rainy July morning after a Jefferson class on mass energy chased by a vacuum systems lab. "The real-world application is what's lacking when you get it out of the teacher's edition."

Tim Criner, a fellow Gildersleeve seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher, also took the course.

Jefferson Lab offered PEST for the first time last summer. This summer, about 24 middle school teachers from the Peninsula and Southside applied and were selected for the program, which was offered at the Newport News facility from July 9 through Aug. 2.

Program eligibility includes working full time as a middle school teacher whose major teaching duty includes science.

"More is being asked of middle school educators than ever before, without additional preparation," says Debbie Magaldi, a lab public affairs specialist. "Often teachers are expected to teach content outside of their area of expertise or training."

To make the classtime worthwhile for teachers who ordinarily depend on a summer job for additional income, a $700 per student stipend is provided through the Department of Energy.

Rosswaag planned to teach chemistry or biology, and concentrated on those disciplines in college.

So when a PEST flyer came to her attention at school, she didn't hesitate. She wanted to do her homework.

"I never expected to have to do the physics part," Rosswaag says. "As soon as I saw it, I filled out the application. I looked at it as a godsend."

Bobby Surry, her Gildersleeve principal, says that Rosswaag is exceptionally motivated and resourceful.

"Kim would have been just as happy to pay to take the class," she says. "She's that type." Though the money was a windfall, it wasn't the whole pay-off.

"It's the knowledge I'm going to use as soon as I step into my classroom in September," Rosswaag says, "so it's more exciting than anything."

She wants to teach her students that physics relates to their world, not just Einstein's; that its laws govern plane and automobile engines, and even the pulley that raises and lowers the flag outside school every day.

"You have to hook the kids," Surry says. "You have to find what interests them. Physics is not always what's going to turn a kid on. When they learn what physics is all about, then it becomes really exciting."

Like any summer school student, Rosswaag and her lab peers sported shorts and T-shirts, sandals or sneakers. The class had its share of gum-chewers and yawn- stiflers.

With pencil in hand, Rosswaag was all ears in the front row for Phil Adderley's lab on vacuum systems. She and Criner, also from Gildersleeve and who was next to her, pored over the information sheets that were distributed.

Rosswaag is pumped about the hands-on experiences she'll bring to Gildersleeve when school starts Tuesday. "I know from sitting in these classes," she says, "how they derive the formula and the theory behind it. If I get a question, the why, I feel very confident I can answer the question. I'm not just saying what the book says. I'm learning so much."


* Jefferson Lab in Newport News offers a program called Physics Enrichment for Science Teachers, or PEST, during the summer for full-time, middle school teachers whose major teaching duty includes science. The Department of Energy provides a $700 stipend for each student who takes the four-week class.

* For information about next summer's program, visit the Web site: education.jlab.org. Under the "Internships" heading, click on "2002 Physics Enrichment for Science Teachers."


HOME: Norfolk

AGE: 29

FAMILY: An aunt and uncle in Virginia Beach, her parents in Pennsylvania; shares her own space with FeeBee and Trooper, a German shepherd and a German shepherd-Labrador retriever mix, respectively

OCCUPATION: Science teacher at Gildersleeve Middle School in Newport News

EDUCATION: Graduate of Palisades High School, formerly Palisades Junior/Senior High in Kintnersville, Pa., and Salisbury State University, in Salisbury, Md., with a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a minor in biology

WHAT SHE DID DURING HER SUMMER VACATION: Took a mini-course in basic physics for middle school science teachers through a Jefferson Lab program called Physics Enrichment for Science Teachers, or PEST