Scholars go to the schools to teach science

June 24, 2002 11:57 a.m.

a high school science teacher, Mark Volpe has attended his share of professional development programs and seminars. Few, however, have given him the chance to ask such big philosophical questions as, "What are the criteria for truth? How do we know what is true?"

But that's just the question Volpe put to Aaron Lemonick, professor of physics emeritus, during a recent seminar for local teachers organized by the University's Teacher Preparation Program. The seminar, one of two identical sessions held this spring, allowed teachers to fire questions -- big or small -- at Lemonick as he guided them through a history of astronomy and helped them experience the same sense of discovery that they work to impart to their own students.

"I enjoyed it thoroughly," said Volpe. "It was so nice to go into an academic setting and be able to ask someone else questions, instead of standing up in front of a room and talking. It's nice to have a little role reversal."

The seminar paired Lemonick, whose humor and plain language made him a beloved teacher at Princeton, with Ilene Levine, a third-grade teacher from Roosevelt, N.J., who interspersed his anecdotes and scientific explanations with practical, hands-on demonstrations. The teachers built their own telescopes, peered through prisms and gazed at a simulated cosmos in a miniature planetarium that can be used in classrooms.

"It is really an opportunity for Aaron to share what he is so very good at," said John Webb, director of Teacher Prep. "He weaves a kind of magic with the teachers. And he and Ilene work very well together."

The seminars grew out of Teacher Prep's three-year-old Teachers as Scholars initiative, which brings 80 teachers from 13 local school districts to the Princeton campus each year to attend workshops with faculty members in a variety of disciplines. More than a dozen faculty members participate in the seminars, which meet as many as four times in a semester.

Teachers as Scholars participants asked for more science seminars, said Webb, so the Teacher Prep staff used a grant from the Ernest Christian Klipstein Foundation to develop the science seminars with Lemonick and Levine. As a new twist, they brought the program to the schools. The first session took place in the East Windsor School District and the second was in the Crossroads Middle School in South Brunswick.

Webb said that going to the schools underscored the program's commitment to participating in the area's schools and communicated to students in the schools that their teachers also engaged in learning. "And it worked," he said. "When we were out in the courtyard working with our sky domes, students came over and asked what we were doing."

To read the full story in the Princeton Weekly Bulletin, click here .

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601