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SPIE Professional October 2013

Teaching science to kids

Two open-access articles in the SPIE flagship journal, Optical Engineering, discuss the challenge of inspiring today's youth with math and science.

One article reports on a successful teacher-training program in the United States that utilized the Hands-on Optics (HOO) Terrific Telescopes curriculum, and the other is an editorial on the low number of women entering the field of optical engineering.

Improved understanding of optics and photonics among middle-school students was the goal of the Turning Eyes to the Big Sky project, funded in part by an SPIE Education Outreach grant and led by SPIE member Ryan Hannahoe.

image of telescope It successfully integrated science-related technology into eight middle-school classrooms in southwestern Montana during the 2010-2011 school year, placing telescopes in the hands of more than 150 students.

Students improved their understanding of light and optics concepts in all classrooms, according to “Teaching and learning geometric optics in middle school through the Turning Eyes to the Big Sky project,” coauthored by Hannahoe; Montana State University assistant professor Mary J. Leonard; SPIE member and Montana State grad student Gustave Nollmeyer; and SPIE Fellow Joseph A. Shaw, director of the university’s Optical Technology Center.

The project provided training to eight teachers, assisted them in adapting and supplementing the Terrific Telescopes curriculum to the classroom, and assessed student learning outcomes and attitudes about science careers.

“More middle-school students thought about becoming scientists after their experience,” the researchers write.

The Turning Eyes to the Big Sky project was described in a 2010 article in SPIE Professional.

Making math more fun, especially for girls

How do we make mathematics, physics, chemistry, and engineering more interesting for young people?

That’s the question posed in the editorial by Ron Driggers, editor-in-chief of Optical Engineering.

In "Optical Engineering to a 14-Year-Old Girl," Driggers asks his daughter about her lack of interest in a college major or a career in mathematics and optical engineering.

“She thinks mathematics are hard, tedious, and ‘if you make a mistake, the whole problem goes wrong,’” Driggers writes. “That is, there is not much room for error.”

image of female scientistDriggers says our community needs to figure out ways to make math more fun for young people and raise awareness about how optical engineers can make a difference in the world.

"As a community, we have a problem with the low number of women entering the field of optical engineering, and we all need to be in marketing and education mode," Driggers writes. "We also need to explore how to make mathematics more fun."

Both articles are in the SPIE Digital Library.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201310.09

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