EPE hosted successful online teacher workshops again this summer

Alyssa Miller, engineering physicist, presents Particle Accelerators for Educators to the Middle School Beauty and Charm Educator Workshop at Fermilab. Photo: Amanda Early

What is a particle accelerator? How do we study particles that we can’t see? How do humidity, sunlight and soil temperature affect plant growth, and how does that impact different ecosystems? Fermilab’s Office of Education and Public Engagement has wrapped up another summer of virtual teacher workshops that explored these and other questions. Participating in five workshops, 60 teachers from 19 different states joined lab staff over Zoom to connect their classrooms to the science of Fermilab, ask questions of scientists, engineers and technicians, and take virtual tours.

For the second summer, the workshops were held in the virtual format. Workshop opportunities were available for educators teaching kindergarten through 12th grade. Offering five different workshops ensured that teachers received information for their specific grade level. Content covered in the physics workshops included the process of science and the engineering design process; electricity and magnetism; mechanics; and an introductory overview of particle physics. Each participant was provided with a kit of materials in order to complete the investigations at home. Teachers met with accelerator operators, engineers, technicians and physicists to learn how they can connect the content they teach in their classrooms to America’s particle physics laboratory. There were panel discussions where teachers could get advice on opportunities available for the students in their classrooms and how they can connect to the lab through virtual visits, so we can inspire the next generation of Fermilab staff, regardless of where the teachers are located.

As a National Environmental Research Park, Fermilab is committed to the restoration and preservation of the major ecosystems present on the laboratory site, an objective that includes providing educational opportunities for teachers and students to learn about and be stewards of the environment. During the first virtual Energy and Ecosystems workshop, teachers engaged in authentic, interactive field studies that investigated the dynamics of nature, including energy cycles, adaptation, resilience and biodiversity to reveal interdependent relationships among organisms within prairie, wetland and woodland ecosystems. Featured were ecosystem services, restoration and engineering components, as well as a virtual visit with Fermilab ecologist, Wally Levernier.

Teachers learned how to create opportunities for students to make their own personal connections to nature through observation and scientific data collection, using scientific practices and crosscutting concepts from the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Language Arts and Math. These connections may help students develop compassion for and stewardship of the environment, which can transfer to their homes and their communities, as well as foster an awareness of environmental justice.

The 60 participants will work with hundreds of students throughout their careers, helping extend the connection of Fermilab science to students throughout the country.

The feedback the workshop participants provided was excellent. In one example, a participant said, “Great class and experience! I love the idea of students observing ecosystem factors and then creating their own projects.” Another participant said, “This was a super online experience! The teachers were knowledgeable, caring and enthusiastic. Great job!” Summing up the experience, one participant said, “It was the best professional development I’ve taken … I can’t wait until I do the virtual field trips. Thank you. Best $50 I’ve ever spent.”