SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Two educators meet the challenge of creative science education

Nov. 18, 2009
Nancy Magnani and Judy Donnelly create innovative programs that inspire young students to study science.

Spotlight on inspiring the next generation of scientists and

Nancy Magnani and Judy Donnelly put OSA Foundation funds to work by designing innovative and
creative programs that inspire young students to study science.


Making science
interesting to young people is a challenge for educators and the scientific community. Through careful curriculum
development and special grant-funded projects, teachers around the country are creating innovating programs to
encourage students from middle school through college to consider science as a career, and to provide them with the
problem-solving and critical thinking skills needed in today's increasingly technological society.

Two people
who have done outstanding work in bringing optics education to life for young people recently highlighted their work
during the OSA Foundation Chairman's Breakfast. Nancy Magnani, science specialist and program facilitator, EASTCONN,
and Judy Donnelly, program coordinator, Laser and Fiber Optic Technology, Three Rivers Community College, Norwich,
CT, were featured speakers at this event which took place in October, 2009, during Frontiers in Optics/OSA's Annual
Meeting in San Jose, CA. Both have received OSAF grants to support their youth science education projects.

"Nancy's and Judy's programs demonstrate the value and impact that our grant programs have," says Meredith Smith,
OSAF Director. "The annual OSAF Chair's event provides us with an opportunity to thank supporters and highlight
funded initiatives such as the ones Nancy and Judy lead."

Magnani reported on behalf of EASTCONN, a public,
nonprofit regional education service center in northeastern Connecticut that serves 36 school districts in mostly
rural areas of the state. EASTCONN is sponsoring a multiyear effort focusing on three interrelated programs: "Optics
in the Classroom," "Investigating the Night Time Sky!" and the "Lending Library."

"Optics in the Classroom"
offers professional development workshops for teachers, with scholarships provided to ensure that teachers from
financially limited school districts can participate. One of the major programs in 2008—2009 was a Laser Camp
for 9th- through 12th-grade high school physics, optics, and electrical/electronic shop students, conducted in
partnership with Three Rivers Community College. Activities included constructing pinhole cameras, polarization art,
laser engraving and holograms. "We wanted to enhance existing high school curricula by providing in-depth,
inquiry-based optics/photonics activities at a community college setting," explained Nancy Magnani. "We also wanted
to introduce students to potential career opportunities in optics and photonics."

"Investigating the Night
Time Sky (Dark Skies)," enables students to participate in a study of the effects of light pollution by studying the
night skies in their own neighborhoods. The program is another collaborative effort between Magnani and Donnelly,
with support from Fenna Hanes, New England Board of Higher Education (NEHBE), and on-going collaboration with Connie
Walker, National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO).

In the 2008-09 school year, fifth grade students
participated in a Dark Skies @ EASTCONN Kick-Off Symposium, where they made a working telescope and studied basic
astronomy with assistance from students at a local high school Astronomy Club. They also established partnerships
with students in other states and countries through a "pen pal" letter-writing program and by using Skype and
Bridget to exchange information.

The third arm of the EASTCONN program, the "Lending Library," makes optics
kits and resources available to teachers. The centerpiece of the library is a series of "Hands-on Optics" (HOO)
modules designed by the Optical Society, the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE), and NOAO. Each
HOO module addresses a different topic and offers six to seven hours of exploratory science activities, with
teachers' guides and materials needed for the lessons. HOO kits and Unihedron Sky Quality Meters have been provided
to teachers in the US, Canada, Wales, and Romania.

Donnelly discussed Project PHOTON, a New England Board of
Higher Education (NEBHE) initiative funded by a three-year grant from the Advanced Technological Education (ATE)
program of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Project PHOTON uses problem-based learning (PBL) to teach optics
and photonics technology students to solve "challenges" contributed by industry and research partners. The goal is
to teach students how to solve real-world problems by presenting them with scenarios with a number of possible
solutions. Students work in teams to test and reformulate possible solutions to a Challenge, with instructors
serving as consultants in the learning process, guiding students to resources and providing information as

Donnelly, who serves as one of the project's co-principal investigators, explains: "PBL is designed to
prepare students to adapt learning to new situations and to develop the critical thinking, communication and
problem-solving skills that will be essential to meeting the demands of the 21st century high-tech environment."

The OSA Foundation, established in 2002, is dedicated to supporting programs that advance youth science education,
provide optics education and resources to underserved populations, provide career and professional development
resources, and support awards and honor that recognize technical and business excellence. Contributions to the Foundation, a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the
Internal Revenue Code, are deductible as provided by law. All donors receive special recognition and
acknowledgments, unless they request to be anonymous. Donations to the OSA Foundation are matched dollar-for-dollar
by the Optical Society. For more information, please contact the OSA development staff via telephone:
+1.202.416.1421 or email: [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;
[email protected];

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