Active Learning project promotes science education around the world

Workshops for educators promoting an innovative method of teaching physics that uses optics and photonics as an experimental topic will be held in Zambia in September and Cameroon in December, organizers have announced. Proposals for 2009 have been received from Peru and Nepal, according to program specialist Minella Alarcon of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

The workshops are organized within the framework of the project Active Learning in Optics and Photonics (ALOP) sponsored by UNESCO, SPIE, ICTP (Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics), the National Academies of the USA, and Essilor. SPIE has contributed $20,000 annually since 2005 in support of the project.

ALOP workshops offer post-secondary physics teachers the opportunity to improve their conceptual understanding of optics, and foster the use of laboratory work and hands-on activities in the classroom. Activities involve simple, inexpensive materials that, whenever possible, can be fabricated locally. An accompanying training manual includes an assessment instrument to measure student learning of optics concepts.

"Physics education research has demonstrated that students in traditional physics courses do not master concepts," said David Sokoloff, professor of physics at the University of Oregon. Sokoloff is a member of the ALOP international facilitator team as well as editor of the ALOP Training Manual. "Participation in ALOP introduces educators to a new, active learning approach to learning optics concepts. The evidence from research is that students who learn using this approach demonstrate a much better grasp of the concepts than with traditional approaches."

Optics is used as subject matter because it is relevant as well as adaptable to research and educational conditions in many developing countries.

A facilitator team comprised of staff from the Ateneo de Manila University (Philippines), the Swinburne University of Technology (Australia), the Université El Manar, Tunis (Tunisia), the University of Oregon (USA), and the University of Waterloo (Canada) helped develop the learning modules and hands-on activities, and assisted with purchase of components and fabrication of some materials.

ALOP workshops were held in Tanzania, Brazil, and Mexico in 2007, and received financial support from the American Association of Physics Teachers.

ALOP Dar es Salaam 2007 (Tanzania) was held from 4 to 10 July, and organized by the Tanzania Physical Society and the Department of Physics of the University of Dar es Salaam. Organizers also received financial support from the Interdivisional Group for Physics and Development of the European Physical Society. Participants were from schools and universities in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, and Tanzania.

ALOP São Paulo 2007 (Brazil) was held from 22 to 27 July 2007. Local support was provided by the Faculty of Education and the University of São Paulo, as well as the Foundation of the Faculty of Education of the university and the state research funding agency FAPESP. Additional financial assistance was received from the World Conference on Physics and Sustainable Development and the Optical Society of America.

Participants were from universities in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay. Under the Latin American Network in Physics Education (LAPEN), participants organized to work on a Spanish translation of the ALOP training manual this year.

ALOP San Luis Potosí 2007 (Mexico) was held from 5 to 11 December, with local financial support from the Rector's Office of the University, the Research Institute of Optical Communication, and Centro Latino-Americano de Física. Participants were from Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Peru, Spain, Venezuela, and Mexico.

Officials from the Bureau of International Scientific Organizations of the U.S. National Academies and from the International Commission on Optics also attended. Both organizations have endorsed ALOP and are cooperating with UNESCO in support of the program. The workshop was organized in conjunction with the Mexican Physical Society.

Participants from San Luis Potosí plan to organize a local ALOP workshop for high school teachers. Workshops in Colombia and Peru were proposed for 2009 and 2010, respectively. The host institute offered to assist in the fabrication of equipment needed for future ALOP workshops.

Many participants San Luis Potosí are involved in LAPEN as well. LAPEN has plans to organize a second regional workshop in Argentina in Spanish this year with the São Paulo group, and in Columbia and Peru in 2009 and 2010 with the San Luis Potosí group.

The ALOP project working group is now finalizing the draft French version of the manual which will be launched in Cameroon.

For more information about ALOP contact m.alarcon@unesco.org.

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