Teachers Experiment at CEBAF

A car battery rested on the floor next to a table filled with copper wire, an old magnet and a jumble of electronic equipment. Teachers moved along the table selecting flashlight batteries, compasses and nails.

The 48 middle and high school teachers went to work, making electromagnets to pick up paper clips and circuits to light tiny bulbs. The whole time they were looking for experiments to take back to their school laboratories.

"You don't learn from a book and you don't learn from somebody standing in front of a room telling you something," Dennis Manos, a College of William and Mary professor leading the workshop. "You learn by doing it."

The teachers, who come from six states, have spent the past four weeks at CEBAF in a program paid for with an Energy Department grant. The program is designed to improve science education by providing hands-on activities for the classroom.

Teachers attend morning workshops conducted by professors from Virginia's colleges. They spend the afternoon working on research projects with scientists.

"We want to get away from the cookbook activities where you just follow the instructions," said Valerie Mettler, a teacher at Bruton High School in York County.

"It puts us in the forefront of physics," Mettler said. She has spent the last four weeks working on a method of cooling materials to super low temperatures using liquid helium.

Manos moved through the room, watching as teachers broke into groups.

Six teachers bowed over one table holding wires and flashlight batteries to string a circuit that would light tiny bulbs.

Nearby a group was testing their electromagnet, made with a nail, a battery and a piece of wire.

"We're just playing around with all our material to see what we have," said Tyrone Goodman, a teacher at Granby High School in Norfolk. "We're brainstorming."

Bonnie Sousa, who teaches life sciences at Hines Middle School, did research on the instruments that will measure CEBAF's beam of electrons. She said the opportunity to do research has made her more excited about teaching.

"It gets you re-charged," she said. "You remember why you're a teacher. You're revitalized."

Kristen Bowling also worked on the device that measures CEBAF's electron beam.

Bowling expected to be able to include her research in lessons for sixth-graders at Davis Middle School.

"You can teach them the methods behind the research," Bowling said.

Teachers also toured area museums and even spent some time at Busch Gardens, where they had a lesson on the physics of amusement park rides.

In addition to the research and workshops, each teacher gets about $600 worth of computer programs, books and experimental materials. "They get to carry away about a truckload of materials," said Laymond North, a chemistry teacher at Hampton High School who helped organize the program.