here are thousands of buildings in this country, with millions of people in them who have no telephones, no cable television, and no reasonable prospect of broadband services. They're called schools," said Reed E. Hundt, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in a New York Times interview on December 6, 1993.
Many students today are not getting the technological information in the classroom that they need to meet the demands of the future. To combat this problem, DOE's Office of Science Education and External Relations at ORNL has created the Oak Ridge Regional Education Center. The center offers year-round, hands-on learning and research opportunities for students and teachers from elementary school through college using the most up-to-date computer equipment.
Several years ago, DOE named several national laboratories, including ORNL, as science education centers. The Oak Ridge Regional Education Center was built in January 1993. The center interacts with numerous regional groups, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Appalachia Education Laboratory.
DOE is committed to using its highly trained technical staff and advanced facilities to strengthen science and mathematics education nationally. New partnerships are strengthening the center's focus on national education goals and on education reform within the Southeast. Support for these partnerships includes a major new focus on computing and communications technology for educational applications.
The center is equipped with a computer classroom, where students and teachers learn through a series of exercises how to collect data, how to apply data to certain problems, and how to use a computer to visualize the complete package. The wave of the future in computer technology is networking, a phenomenon that allows amateur computer users to access information from computers around the world using Internet, an international network of computer users.
For example, if a person needed a document in Spanish for a research project, chances are he or she would have no idea where to look. But students and teachers are learning that, at the touch of a button, and with some simple computer knowledge, it is possible through Internet to retrieve a document electronically from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, for example, to use on their computer in Oak Ridge or elsewhere.
The center is the "umbrella" organization for ORNL's Saturday Academy for Computing and Mathematics (SACAM), which offers promising, college-bound students the opportunity for practical experience in science, mathematics, and computing. The eight-week course presents a different topic each Saturday morning during the sessions, held twice a year.
As part of SACAM, scientists from ORNL teach students and teachers how to use computers and present information on science and technology through activities the students can understand. Some of the topics that have been discussed in the sessions include "Cryptology and Cryptography," "Finding Lost People: An Application of Probabilities," "Modeling Controlled Fusion," and "DNA and the Human Genome Project."
"We try to guide teachers and students into a system that will meet their present needs and be compatible with future technological changes," says John Wooten, program administrator for Education Technology and Outreach Programs.
The goal of SACAM is to give students a general knowledge of different topics to increase their interest and comprehension of scientific subjects. Because it is sometimes difficult to interest students in science and computing, SACAM classes make difficult theories easier to understand through activities that show students they have the ability to grasp complex scientific concepts.
"Science is the process of finding answers, not knowing answers," said Chester R. Richmond, director of ORNL's Science Education and External Relations Office. "You don't have to inherently know the answers to excel in science. This attitude makes kids less uptight about science."
Once teachers and students learn about computer networking at the center, they can take their knowledge back to their schools. Several schools are investing in their students' futures by purchasing computers and telephone lines that will allow them to have networking capabilities. Currently, Oliver Springs High School; Webb School of Knoxville; the Oak Ridge, Lenoir City, and Roane County school systems; and Ingleside School in Athens, Tennessee, have computer networking capabilities or are in the process of getting connected to the system.
"I think the use of the computer classroom and the training we provide has set an example and a strategy for schools in the region," Wooten says. "Now they know the path to follow when it comes to staying abreast of the latest technology in and out of the classroom." He adds that ORNL is serving its role as a national laboratory by taking the technology that has been at the laboratory for years and teaching people how to apply it in the private sector.
Terry Hacker, a teacher at Oliver Springs High School, was invited to the program after taking part in SACAM's early planning sessions. Hacker says the program "creates a lot of interest in kids who want to be on the cutting edge of new technology."
One of the success stories of SACAM is Brandy Justice of Oliver Springs High School. Brandy was identified by one of her teachers as a candidate for computer classes, which she took as a high-school sophomore and senior. Because Brandy became so proficient at using computer networks, she was asked to attend a national meeting in Washington, D. C., where she demonstrated her computer knowledge and discussed the role of technology in schools.
When Brandy graduated from Oliver Springs High School, she went on to Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. There she attempted to obtain an Internet account to continue her networking activities. To her dismay, she was informed that it was Furman's policy to give Internet accounts only to graduate students and computer science majors. When Brandy explained that she had had an Internet account since her high school sophomore year, Furman administrators decided to reevaluate the school's policy on computer accounts. Now, all Furman students may have access to Internet accounts. And because no Furman faculty members were qualified to teach the students how to use their Internet accounts, Brandy has been hired to teach Internet classes.
"When you're dealing with educating youngsters, you're seeing what you've done for years at ORNL applied and you start seeing the benefits very quickly," Wooten says.
Once schools decide to install networked computers, ORNL's Science Education and External Relations Office assists in planning the networks, wiring them, and establishing the Internet connections. These services are free to the schools, as are the computer classes for students and teachers.
The Office of Science Education also offers programs for students and teachers. Precollege programs allow students and teachers to experience "hands-on" learning opportunities into the frontiers of science. These programs include "Science Bowl" competitions, high-school science-student honors workshops, and the Ecological and Physical Sciences Study Center.
Undergraduate programs reach students at a time in their academic development that is important in influencing career choices and decisions on advanced study in energy-related fields. These programs include the DOE Science and Engineering Research Semester (SERS), summer and academic-year professional or technical internships, and customized technical internships.
Graduate-level advanced study and research opportunities, which make further use of ORNL's unique facilities and staff, help prepare emerging scientists and engineers for their roles in national energy-related missions. These programs provide close association with ongoing energy research and development at ORNL. Graduate-level programs include the DOE Fellowship Practicums, Research Participation/Research Visits, and Graduate Education for Minorities Consortium Appointments.--Angela C. Swatzell
"We reached a variety of girls, especially those who have shown an interest in and an aptitude for science and math. We served a broad spectrum of young girls not just the best students who may need some motivation to take the high-school math and science courses that will allow them to major in technical fields in college," says Peggy Emmett, chairperson of the Greater Knoxville Math/Science Coalition, a sponsor of the event.
Various topics in life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, math and computers, everyday engineering, and high-tech engineering were explored. Students attending the conference were from Knox, Anderson, Roane, Loudon, Morgan, Blount, Jefferson, Sevier, and Grainger counties. A teacher's program featured the Jasper Woodbury Video Series on critical thinking skills and problem solving. Teachers used techniques learned from the series in the classroom to make math and science more interesting.
SHADES was partially funded by grants from the Thompson Charitable Fund of the East Tennessee Foundation, the American Association of University Women Education Foundation, the American Nuclear Society, and Martin Marietta Energy Systems, Inc., as well as by the member organizations of the coalition.--Yvonne Loveday
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