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12 June 2007
Seminar Seeks to Enliven the Instruction of Science

By Steve Ivey
Star Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Laura Weinkauf teaches an IMPACTSEED workshop at Jacksonville State to give high school science teachers ideas on how to make learning more fun for students. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star.

JACKSONVILLE — A classroom full of high school science teachers braced and shifted in their seats as Nouredine Zettili jammed a wire into an exposed electric socket.

He tapped the other end to assure them it was the cold wire, with no dangerous charge running through it.

But then, once safely elevated, he did the same with the hot wire, avoiding 110 volts of electricity.

So long as he remained off the ground on a wooden platform, he was safe.

“Otherwise I would be break dancing right now,” said Zettili, a physics professor at Jacksonville State University.

The demonstration was part of a two-week seminar to teach 30 high school physics and chemistry teachers how to liven up their lesson plans.

“Teachers tell us they’re asked to teach in a hands-on approach,” Zettili said. “But they often have nothing to put their hands on.”

A federal grant administered by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education pays for the program known as IMPACTSEED—Improving Physics and Chemistry Teaching in Secondary Education—now in its fifth year.

This year JSU provided a $19,270 matching grant to $137,500 in federal money.

Zettili said JSU is the only site in the state that offers the training

“The need is really justified,” he said. “We have a terrible shortage of physics and chemistry teachers in this area.”

He said JSU offers only a graduate degree in general science education, not specialized in any subject. When assignments shift teachers to either physics or chemistry, they often aren’t completely proficient.

“Students who came to us as (college) freshmen were really unprepared,” he said. “Trying to deprogram the few who had taken classes in high school was very tough.

“Now, the students are in good hands. The transition is quite seamless.”

Carolyn Nevin, a physics teacher at Southside High School in Etowah County, said she was looking forward to learning some new technology to take back to her classes.

“To understand the technology of a laptop, I’ve never had much chance to work with that,” she said. “And it’s always good to let the students know what to expect once they leave for college.”

Teachers in the program will leave with about $2,500 in equipment to take with them. They’ll also attend five Saturday workshops later this year to build prototype lab experiments to teach their students.

Those include a box with rotating magnets that create enough energy to light a small red bulb, and other magnets that cause a coil of wire to spin — just like a motor —once attached to a battery.

“It’s science out in the open,” Zettili said. “It really demystifies what can be an intimidating subject.”

Hilarie Howard, a physics teacher at Spring Garden High School in Cherokee County, said she enjoyed the program because she’ll be eligible for some on-site visits from Zettili and others during the school year.

“Teaching at a rural school, they don’t have a lot of chances to interact with college professors,” she said. “As soon as he comes in and makes his first joke, they really relax and get interested in science.”

About Steve Ivey

Steve Ivey covers education for The Star.

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