SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Science Educator's Day reaches out to teachers

Science & Technology Education
Spotlight on inspiring the next generation of scientists & business leaders

Grace Klonoski

Recently, more than 100 California middle and high school teachers, optics students, and professionals gathered for an evening of hands-on physics activities that demonstrated easily replicated optical experiments. Using inexpensive, everyday household items such as Jell-O, soda bottles, plastic spoons, and corn syrup, these teachers were learning new ways to present the fundamentals of optics to their students.

The teachers were participating in Science Educator's Day (EDAY), an outreach program sponsored annually by the Optical Society of America (OSA). This free annual event seeks to advance youth science education by providing teachers with detailed instructions and the tools needed to conduct simple optics experiments in their own classrooms. Educators learn effective and innovative ways to translate cutting-edge science into activities that present key concepts in ways that will stimulate and engage young students.

EDAY was established in 1985 in Washington, D.C., in response to the 1983 National Commission on Excellence on Education report, A Nation at Risk, which highlighted the lack of quality science education in the United States. Originally the program was presented in a lecture format followed by workshops for local educators. Over the years, educators expressed interest in having more tangible takeaways from the event, including products they could later use in their classrooms. In the late 1990s the program format was altered to focus more on workshops and demonstrations, and provided optics equipment and kits suitable for easy classroom use.

The program has four main goals: to provide recognition to outstanding science teachers; to put teachers in touch with appropriate resources, including OSA and its local members, student chapters, and local sections, thereby making them part of the optics network; to expose science teachers to optics by offering speakers, workshops, and teaching materials that demonstrate the field and reflect the latest developments; and to help secure equipment for teachers to conduct basic optical experiments in their classrooms.

EDAY 2007, held on Sept. 20 at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, CA, featured 15 booths where Ph.D. student volunteers from local optical societies presented simple demonstrations illustrating concepts such as waveguides, fluorescence, colors of polarization, diffraction, mirrors and lenses, solar energy, and iridescent lighting. Supplemental handouts described the basic physics behind the demonstrations, gave specific instructions, costs, and supply guides to recreate the experiments, and provided resources for further information. Attendees had the opportunity to network with volunteers, students and other teachers over dinner, and they took home gift bags containing booklets, CDs, DVDs, and equipment including a laser pointer, three different prisms, a mix of six lenses, mirrors, filters, a fiber-optics spray, diffraction card, UV detecting beads, portable UV light, a spy pen with invisible ink, and a color-filter paddle. Raffle items included an optics suitcase, experiment kit, handheld spectroscopes, and a solar-cell kit.

A survey of participants revealed that 50% had not previously included optics in their curricula. At the conclusion of the program, 100% of the respondents said that the EDAY experiments and demonstrations would help them to include optics in their classroom teaching.

EDAY 2007 was organized and sponsored by OSA, the OSA Foundation, the Stanford University Student OSA/SPIE Chapter, the UC Berkeley Student OSA/SPIE Chapter and OSA's Northern California Section. Additional volunteers came from the UC Davis Optics Club, Iridescent Learning, Caltech Classroom Connections, the San Jose State Science Education Resource Center, the Optical Society of Southern California, the UC Irvine OSA Student Chapter, the Optics Institute of Southern California, the Institute for Modern Optics and Prof. Ramen Bahuguna, and Greg P. Smestad, Ph.D. Financial support was provided by Corning, Surplus Shed, JK Consulting, and Lockheed-Martin, whose generous grant to the OSA Foundation enabled the purchase of the take-home classroom materials presented to all participating teachers.

Grace Klonoski is the Senior Director of OSA Foundation and Member & Education Services for the Optical Society of America, 2010 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036; e-mail;

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