Ames Laboratory Launches Pre-Service Teacher Education Program

Program gives future science teachers hands-on research experience

For release: April 20, 2009

Steve Karsjen, Public Affairs and Education Program, 515-294-5643
Adah Leshem-Ackerman, Education Program, 515-294-8453

AMES, Iowa – Spring semester marked the launch of a new education program at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory called Pre-Service Teachers, or PST. The program provides Iowa State University pre-service science teachers a chance to work in a research lab and gain first-hand experience that will equip them with a better understanding of the scientific research process. They will then be able to carry their experiences to the classroom.

“Research design and analysis, critical thinking, and teamwork are essential elements to understanding the nature of scientific research, and a student cannot learn them from a textbook nor from a lecture or even a course that includes a lab component,” said PST coordinator Adah Leshem-Ackerman.

The program currently has one student, Patrick Rodenborn, a senior at Iowa State University majoring in physics. He is currently working on becoming a certified teacher in Iowa, and he will be endorsed to teach science. Rodenborn is paired with scientist mentors to provide him with hands-on research experience. Rodenborn’s scientist mentors are Ames Laboratory senior scientist Bill McCallum, Ames Laboratory assistant scientist Kevin Dennis, and Youwen Xu, a physics professor at Minnesota State University-Mankato who is spending her sabbatical year at Ames Laboratory.

“The PST program has been a really good way to see what science is really like as opposed to what it appears to be in the classroom,” Rodenborn said.

PST student Patrick Robendborn (center) with Ames Laboratory mentors Kevin Dennis (left) and Bill McCallum.

Rodenborn is assisting the McCallum research group in determining the best process for the synthesis of a new class of superconductors based on iron and arsenic. The goal is to produce a sample free from impurities that form during the standard processing procedures. McCallum said he is participating in the PST program because “it allows a prospective teacher to experience science as a discovery process rather than an accumulation of facts taught in the classroom. Experiencing the excitement of discovery first hand should help these teachers convey to their students what a career in science is really about.”

The PST program also pairs Rodenborn with a teacher mentor, Ames High School science teacher Craig Walter, who will help him relate what he learns in the lab to teaching in the classroom. Participants’ teacher mentors must also be master teachers, which, Leshem-Ackerman explained, are “high school science teachers who have gained much experience in a particular area and are highly respected as a leader in his/her field.”

The Ames Laboratory PST program is currently funded though Iowa State University by the Iowa Board of Regents Initiative for Math and Science Education Program (IMSEP), and a proposal to continue funding for a summer PST program has been submitted to the Department of Energy’s Office of Work Force Development. Only ISU students are allowed to apply for the fall and spring PST programs, but the summer program will be open to all pre-service science teachers who are U.S. citizens.

“We’re looking forward to making this program for pre-service teachers a prominent part of the Lab’s overall education strategy and to building upon our new relationship in this area with ISU,” said Steve Karsjen, Ames Lab’s education director.

Ames Lab also has an educational program for in-service teachers called Academies Creating Teacher Scientists, or ACTS. This DOE-sponsored program is offered in the summer and gives current teachers the opportunity to work in a research lab with an Ames Lab scientist.

Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory operated for the DOE by Iowa State University.  Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global challenges.