SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: The Rochester Museum & Science Center's 'Light Here/Light Now' distance education program

Aug. 27, 2010
The Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC) is celebrating the city’s many contributions to the field of optics and photonics with “Light Here/Light Now,” a continuing exhibit presented by Bausch & Lomb that uses lasers, mirrors, lenses and prisms to explore optical science, technology and engineering.

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The Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC) is celebrating the city’s many contributions to the field of optics and photonics with “Light Here/Light Now,” a continuing exhibit presented by Bausch & Lomb that uses lasers, mirrors, lenses and prisms to explore optical science, technology and engineering. As an adjunct to the exhibit, the RMSC has developed a national distance learning program targeted to grades 4-10. The program, funded by a grant from the OSA Foundation (OSAF), focuses on National Science Education Standards (NSES) relating to optics science and careers.

Using video conferencing, the distance learning program offers a 45-50 minute “virtual field trip” of the Light Here/Light Now exhibit, along with real-time video demonstrations by an RMSC educator. Students participate in hands-on experiments both before and during the presentation employing classroom kits based on the Optics Suitcase and Optics Discovery Kit. The kits have been supplemented with additional experiments to tie in more closely with some of the technologies highlighted in the exhibition and to ensure that the materials are age-appropriate and aligned with the National Science Education Standards.

“With rising transportation costs and diminished budgets, more and more school districts are choosing to drastically reduce, or completely cancel, field trips,” explains Calvin Uzelmeier, RMSC Director of Education. “Distance learning programs allow us to stream directly into the classroom. Our programs are accessible to any interested organization via a high-bandwidth fiber optics internet connection, expanding our outreach audience from regional to national.”

“We are also keenly interested in making students and teachers aware of career opportunities in the field of optics and in encouraging students to pursue careers in optics,” continues Uzelmeier. “Rochester has a rich history of optics research, commercialization and education. We wanted the exhibition and the student program to illustrate the region’s heritage of optics invention and innovation and to relate optics to students’ everyday lives.”

The exhibition highlights contributions from local companies and colleges/universities including Bausch & Lomb (LASIK surgery), Corning (fiber optics), Kodak (digital cameras), Xerox (laser printers), and the University of Rochester and the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (laser research). Working with the Rochester Section of OSA, the RMSC is also creating short video clips featuring local optics professionals. “These clips put faces to the careers,” says Uzelmeier. “They help students relate to real people in optics and to realize that these are careers that they, too, can pursue.”

About 15 percent of optics and imaging careers nationally are in New York State, the largest nationwide employment cluster identified in a 2001 survey conducted by the Empire State Development Corporation. The RMSC hopes that highlighting careers in optics will draw more students to study in Rochester and further increase the optics workforce in the region.

RMSC recently expanded its technology capabilities, enabling classrooms to connect simultaneously for a given program. Allowing for travel time to mail the optics kits back and forth between program recipients, RMSC can serve six classes of 32 students per week, benefiting 6,900 students in 216 classes per school year. The target audience can expand to 10,000 students by making the program available during the summer months. The program will be offered continuously for a minimum of five years.

To ensure that the program is appropriate for diverse audiences, it is being prototyped with classes from the Rochester City School District (RCSD), Webster School District, and the Genesee Community Charter School (GCCS). Students from all three school systems are serving as focus groups to provide feedback on suitability for urban and suburban audiences and different grade levels.

The program will be listed through the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC) as part of a national searchable database for content provider programs. Organizations can request the program directly through the CILC website.

Founded in 1912 as the City of Rochester's Municipal Museum, the RMSC has grown from a city-funded agency into a unique public/private partnership with the County of Monroe. The 13-acre campus in Rochester, NY, includes a museum/science center with three floors of hands-on, interactive exhibits in science and technology, natural science, and regional cultural heritage; the Bathysphere Underwater Biological Laboratory (BUBL™); the Strasenburgh Planetarium, incorporating the Challenger Learning Center; the 400-seat Eisenhart Auditorium; the RMSC Preschool; and the Genesee Community Charter School. The RMSC's 900-acre Cumming Nature Center is located south of Rochester in the Bristol Hills near Naples, NY. More information about the RMSC’s programs for schools and families, is available on their website at www.rmsc.org.

The OSA Foundation was established in 2002 to support philanthropic activities that help further the Optical Society's mission by concentrating its efforts on programs that advance youth science education, provide optics and photonics education to underserved populations, provide career and professional development resources and support awards and honors that recognize technical and business excellence. The grants funded by the OSA Foundation are made possible by the generous donations of its supporters as well as the dollar-for-dollar match by OSA. The Foundation is exempt from US federal income taxes under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and is a public charity. To learn more about the OSA Foundation or to find out how to donate, please visit www.osa-foundation.org or e-mail [email protected].

GRACE KLONOSKI is the Senior Director, Foundation, Membership & Education Services for the Optical Society of America, 2010 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036; e-mail: [email protected]; www.osa.org.

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