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SPIE Professional April 2008

Photonics Curricula: Beyond Concepts

Project PHOTON PBL goes beyond concepts.

A hiker is lost in the woods, and rescue teams must figure out if and which infrared technology could be used to locate her. A hospital maternity unit is overflowing with newborns being treated with blue light for jaundice. Isn’t there a way to deliver blue light therapy in the home instead of in the hospital?

These are two of eight real-life problems at the center of new science and technology/engineering curricula being developed for high schools and community colleges. The New England Board of Higher Education, with support from the Advanced Technological Education program of the National Science Foundation, SPIE, and other organizations, has already registered success with its multimedia photonics challenges.

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One of the problem-based challenges featured on video shows how graduate students from a Boston University research team (left) calculate the optimum exposure time for a DNA microarray fabricator.
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Project PHOTON PBL uses problem-based, active learning as an alternative to the traditional lecture-based instruction common in education. To do that, PHOTON PBL is creating multimedia challenges that use real-life problems and solutions to prepare high school and community college science and technology/engineering instructors to use them in their classrooms.

“Employers tell us that schools teach basic concepts really well, but when their students are hired and they are asked to apply what they learned to specific problems, they have trouble knowing where to begin,” says Fenna Hanes, principal investigator for PHOTON PBL.

Now in its second year of a three-year NSF grant, PHOTON PBL has field-tested three of the eight challenges that chronicle how real-life companies and research labs engage in scientific problem solving. A supporting 15-chapter textbook, LIGHT: Introduction to Optics and Photonics and a lab kit with field-tested exercises and videos are also available at www.photonprojects.org.

Teachers from different disciplines can use the challenges to demonstrate real-world problems that can be solved through the application of scientific, technological, and engineering knowledge and the processes that university research teams and organizations use to analyze and solve those problems. The challenges, created on video in collaboration with photonics industry partners and research labs, give students an opportunity to solve problems on their own.

The blue light jaundice therapy challenge provided by Photodigm Inc., Drexel University, and Southern Methodist University, requires finding a way to deliver the therapy to newborns in a home setting.

“The teachers who are working with the challenges are very enthusiastic,” Hanes said. PHOTON PBL offers teacher-training workshops. For information on this summer’s workshop, scheduled for the week of 28 July in Boston, contact Hanes at fhanes@nebhe.org. More information: www.photonprojects.org.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4200804.15

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