The OSA's www.opticsforkids.org Web site includes an "Optical illusions Gallery" with experiments and lesson plans, a "Future Scientists" section with hands-on experiments and lessons, an "Optics Timeline" that tracks more than 2000 years of key events, a glossary of optics-related terms, a "Parents and Educators" section that provides links to educational sites and resources, and much more.
How can the scientific community encourage young people's interest in science and math? The Optical Society of America (OSA) and its Foundation hope to do just that with its Exploring the Science of Light programming and relaunched Web site www.OPTICSforKIDS.org. The new site merges two earlier OSA education resources, (OPTICSforTEENS.org and OPTICSforKIDS.org), with a large quantity of new material, and is built to serve the information needs and interests of grade-school students, parents, and educators.
Developing a quality online education resource is difficult work, especially when the topic is perceived by students as difficult or boring. The volunteers and staff at OSA were not deterred by this challenge, and in 2007 they began mapping a strategy for creating an online destination that is fun to visit, easy to navigate, and--most important-- unintimidating. Their target audience includes precollege students and their parents and teachers.
The first step was to evaluate the material that was currently posted on OSA's education Web sites; a subcommittee of OSA student members volunteered to conduct a thorough review of the technical material and lesson plans that were available through OSA-hosted Web sites. Although these volunteers were busy with graduate studies at leading universities around the world, they spent many hours reworking material to make it more accessible and interesting to young students. The volunteers were also able to use the "OSA Online Education Resource Library" as a resource for new material. This library is an online community that OSA student chapter members use to share the lesson plans, optics demonstrations, and special events they develop as part of their grassroots youth education outreach efforts.
New content was also garnered through a collaboration with Florida State University (FSU). Staff from the University's National High Magnetic Field Laboratory developed and will continuously enhance the Molecular Expressions Web site, an extraordinary educational resource for students, educators, and the general public. The "Science, Optics and You" section of this site contains a science-curriculum package that includes a wide range of lessons and hands-on exercises that are categorized by grade level. These activities are designed to introduce students to light, color, and optics. In addition to basic information about lenses, shadows, prisms, and color, the site also highlights some of the sophisticated instruments scientists use in their work.
Molecular Expressions also includes one of the Web's largest collections of color photographs taken through an optical microscope (often referred to as "photo-micro-graphics"). A visit to the site's Photo Gallery provides a selection of images with subjects ranging from beer and ice cream to integrated circuits and ceramic superconductors.
"We're so pleased to be partnering with FSU; its Molecular Expressions site is a quality, comprehensive educational tool," said Allison Cargile, Manager, OSA Youth Education Programs. "We think visitors to OPTICSforKIDS will be especially interested in linking to the Optics Timeline and Interactive Java Tutorials sections of Molecular Expressions."
Many other programs and organizations, including the University of Rochester, Project Lite, and the OSA Foundation permitted OSA to add or link to their content. The "Optics in Surgery: Laser/Tissue Interaction" section of the site features videos supplied by the CardioGenesis Corporation. These movies show how YAG lasers are used to help revive and revascularize sections of the human heart that were previously dying, and thus life-threatening. Pod Blogs, previously televised science news clips, and interactive activities that students can perform on their desktops are all available on OPTICSforKIDS.
The site also includes reference materials and recommended Web links, a galley of optical illusions that shows how light and color shape visual perception, a glossary of terms and definitions, and biographies of scientists, engineers, and technicians. The predecessors to the current version of OPTICSforKIDS drew visitors from all over the globe. In an effort to make the site more accessible to non-English-speaking users, a link to Google's translation service appears on the homepage. Visitors click on this link to select the language they would like the site to be converted into.
This is, of course only the beginning. OSA expects to enhance the site on an ongoing basis. Users play an important role in the directions OPTICSforKIDS will take. Staff plans to regularly survey students and adult users, and to monitor the visitor traffic for each section of the site in an effort to better connect with its community of users and add material to the subject areas of most interest.
GRACE KLONOSKI is the Senior Director, Foundation and the Member & Education Services for the Optical Society of America, 2010 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.OSA.org.