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What I did this summer...

How many times have you had this assignment in school. Well, the tables are turned as the teachers of the 2010 High School Teacher Fellowship share their experiences in the research labs at University of Louisville and University of Kentucky.

Their challenge:

How to take what they learn back to the classroom and excite their students about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).


My Struggle

At this point, in the middle of my second week in the fellowship program, I am thinking that I am very fortunate to be a part of this program. However, tomorrow morning I may be wondering what I was thinking, to get myself involved in this program. The pendulum of my feelings have been swinging between both extremes every since we began, that first Monday.

There are two basic reasons that I applied for the program. The first reason is that I am very concerned about the disinterest high school students have in careers in math and science. This is a national crisis. Who is going to clean up our oil spills in the future, if we don’t have scientists? It is exciting to be part of a program that may make a difference in the future course of our nation. The second reason I applied was to learn something, be stretched, and have a new experience.

While it remains to be seen whether we can interest high school students in a career in science, I have certainly accomplished my second purpose in participating in this program. I knew I was in trouble on Monday, while Dr, Mendez was explaining what a waveguide grating coupler is and some basics about how it works. I’m sure I had that same glazed-over look in my eyes that I see in my student’s eyes from time to time. And when I went to read his scholarly paper on “A Solid Immersion Lens at Aplanatic Conditions for Enhancing the Spectral Bandwidth of a Waveguide Grating Coupler” I felt overwhelmed (an understatement.) How do you read a paper when you cannot even understand the title? I have been discouraged often, but I pressed in. My best friends now are a basic physics text, an optics text, and the students in Room 211 who have been wonderful about explaining concepts and answering questions.

Slowly I am beginning to understand what is going on in this photonics lab. Light is an amazing phenomenon. As I struggle to understand, I often feel a thrill of victory as a concept becomes clear. It is like climbing to the top of Mt. Everest and planting a flag. This is the real spirit of adventure. If students knew the adventure of discovering the world of light, or of discovering the nano world, or of making a new world through bio-technology we would have too many people with careers in science. The quest of the teacher is to entice students to study math and science by introducing them to the adventure. The question of the teacher is, how?




Wealth of Knowledge

This is coming upon the end of my second week in Dr. Patwardhan’s lab.  His lab is a cardiac rhythm laboratory that uses mice and pigs in the laboratory to study the heart.  Since we cannot do an experiment everyday using a mouse or pig due to the cost and for the simple fact that we cannot simply kill a mouse or pig everyday they use mathematical modeling to carry out their theories. 


I am a Math teacher and have learned so many things about the basic functions of the heart.  Even though I also have a degree in Chemistry I never had to take Anatomy and Physiology.  My first day here I admit I was overwhelmed with the terminology alone.  I was shown the lab and received a brief overview of what goes on.  I was thinking to myself that I needed to go to a bookstore or look online to learn the basics of the heart because I had no idea what they were talking about!  Then I thought about my classroom and was asking myself how many students get lost or are confused because of the terminology?!  I teach at an English as a Second Language (ESL) school and basic vocabulary words are a struggle for them.  Hence, how do I expect my students to keep up with I’m saying if they don’t even know the definitions of the terms?  For the non-ESL students some of my students struggle on terminology as well.  If I focus on the basic terminology especially with Geometry, I beginning to wonder if students have the basic terminology, which is the foundation, will they understand and grasp the concepts more.  Therefore, this is one of the ideas I would take back to my classroom is to stress the terminology.   I believe I will see an improvement in the percentage of students that understand the concept more. I can present the terms ahead of time to students before we discuss the concept.


I have not yet had the opportunity to be in the lab because the experiments are costly due to the fact that we are working with animals.  I have been introduced to some of the programs that they use like SolidWorks, which the engineering students use to build models.   I must say that it is amazing!  This program is too advanced for high school students but I can easily incorporate SketchUp or SketchPad into my classroom and students can easily calculate volume and surface area of shapes. 


Currently I am working on the FHN model and trying to understand it.  Today I computed action potential duration (APD) and diastolic interval (DI) using an excel worksheet.  More info will come tomorrow.  This excel worksheet can easily be incorporated into the Applied Mathematics class or a Medical class, which we are now a Medical magnet. 


This past week and a half has definitely been filled with knowledge and a wealth of information.  I look forward to the upcoming weeks


First Impressions

For  just over a week I have worked at U of L as a researcher.  We, four high school teachers, were awarded a month-long fellowship and each assigned a different lab/professor.   I am with Cindy Harnett in a lab that focuses on micro sensors.

It would be an understatement to say that the amount information given in the first two days was daunting.  Regardless, my Science background and vast tutoring subjects prepared me.  I started out researching the concepts so that I could immediately begin fabrication.  That was the most shocking part of this lab.  The majority of the time is spent designing and making our devices and the tools for these devices.  We are making these devices for the first time so we cannot just pick up the materials and tools from a store or on-line company, we must use our own creative juices.  That is what is so unique about a lab that is specifically at a school that specializes in engineering as opposed to what I have background in.

I have always said that an indoor lab was not a place for me, but if it means creating my own designs/devices and implementing them, then it is.  We (Evgeniya – Graduate Student)  are currently building a large-scale model of a microfluidic device.  More details on that device tomorrow.  This project was to last the entire month, but we have had so much success that I will be moving on to the sensor devices (also, more on that tomorrow)  soon. 

I will be sad to not work with Evgeniya, but I am still excited about a new project.  She has made the first project an enjoyable experience and her knowledge and skills are phenomenal.


Excitement about STEM

My first experiences here at the university was our lab tours.  We toured several labs and at each stop I was overwhelmed with an abundance of information.  Most of the information was in the form of Science.  I have my BA in mathematics and teach high school math.   The information was overwhelming because I felt that I didn't know much about the things I was being showed.  I knew that math was at the core of each project or lab.

Currently I'm working on making a Knudsen pump about 1 foot long with a diameter of 2.75in.  Well my first task was to research the internet and start ordering the parts that would be needed for my project.  I found the filter that, Dr. Mcnamara and I thought would work but first I had to calculate the flow rate to determine if it would work for our purposes.  Well I became very excited because hey, I was about to do some mathematical computations.  Then I saw the formula that I would use to calculate the flow rate and once again I became over whelmed.  I had not used a formula that long since my undergraduate studies.  Well it didn't take long (about 1 day) :) not long, to calculate the flow rate for this filter.    We decided it would work so we ordered it.  I'm still currently looking for the other parts to order.


My students in math are always asking me "when will I ever use this."  I'm sure every high school math teacher has had this question posed to them.  Well now they have posters to help us answer these questions.  The poster at my school shows hundreds of careers and how you need math for these careers.  This usually answers their question but it doesn't seem to address the concern about How do we get them excited about math?

Being here this week at the university, I am starting to understand somewhat, how to get them excited about math.  For me I am excited that I calculated the flow rate for something that I will now build and see if my calculations are correct.    We have several hands on things we do at my school which require the students to make calculations and then we go outside and test those calculations to see if they were correct.  I see now, why the students like those activities so much.  They get to see math at work (their calculations and how they matter).  So I think definitely I will introduce more activities in which students do calculations that can immediately be tested with some kind of hands on activity or experiment.

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