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Appalachian and Discovery Place partner to enhance science and math education

BeeEye_t.jpgBOONE—Appalachian State University and Discovery Place in Charlotte are partnering to excite school-age children and others about science, technology, engineering and math. Known as STEM, these academic areas are critical to addressing the state’s need for a professional workforce skilled in these areas.

Dr. Robert Corbin, vice president of learning experiences at Discovery Place, says the partnership meshes with the science museum’s goal of providing “wonder-filled” experiences to its visitors.

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Visitors to Discovery Place can see a bee’s eye magnified as much as 30,000 times actual size with the aid of Appalachian State University Department of Physics and Astronomy’s portable scanning electron microscope. The scope is on loan to the science museum during the month of August. The activity is an example of a new partnership between the museum and university designed to excite children about math, science and technology.

“The work being done by professors at Appalachian is 100 percent aligned with our mission,” Corbin said. “Discovery Place is all about wonder, and we know wonder is key to changing students’ attitudes about STEM education. If we are serious about raising the level of students’ achievement in science and math, a key step is providing opportunities to engage the public in research such as that being conducted by professors at Appalachian.”

One of the activities at Discovery Place this summer will use team activities and museum scavenger hunts to make learning math and algebra fun.

In July, Dr. Anita Kitchens from Appalachian’s Department of Mathematical Sciences will take her popular Math Camp on the road to Discovery Place. The program is supported by funds from the N.C. Space Grant Consortium and Appalachian’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“When I told Dr. Kitchens of the limited opportunities for summer enrichment programs for many inner-city students, she was excited to bring her camp to the science museum,” Corbin said. “The camp will provide opportunities for students to be successful in gateway math and algebra courses.” As part of the camp, Discovery Place is providing the students access to all exhibits.

With support from Charlotte Empowerment Zone, a program for inner-city youth, 60 students have been invited to attend the evening camp free of charge July 25-28. The camp will help the students gain confidence in tackling math and algebra and in themselves. “We do a lot of math problems, but the message of Math Camp is that you can be anything you want to be if you are willing to do the work,” Kitchens said.

Kitchens wants to open the camp to more students in the Charlotte area in subsequent years. “The ultimate goal is to have Math Camp for hundreds of students with teachers from the local school systems serving as camp faculty or coaches,” Kitchens said.

Dr. Brett Taubman from the Department of Chemistry and Dr. Jim Sherman from the Department of Physics and Astronomy will be profiled through Discovery Place’s “Buzz Station: Scientist on the Spot” beginning in July and continuing through Labor Day. An interactive display will include a profile of the professors and allow visitors at the museum to submit questions to them via email about their climate and weather research. Their responses will be displayed later on a kiosk monitor at Discovery Place and also at http://www.sciencebuzz.org/museum/ask.

Visitors also will have the chance to measure the amount of sunlight reaching the earth using a sun photometer and pyranometer constructed by Taubman and Sherman. The information will be added to a database maintained by the university’s NASA-funded Climate Action Network through Direct Observations and Outreach program.

The sun photometers measure the aerosol optical depth, or how much sunlight is being absorbed or scattered by particles in the atmosphere. The pyranometers measure the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth’s surface. Taubman says the information helps scientists understand the Earth-atmosphere energy budget – how much energy is coming in versus how much is going out – and how different components of the atmosphere may be impacting this budget and ultimately the climate.

With similar devices at Grandfather Mountain and in Watauga County, South Africa, Thailand and Peru, Appalachian will be able collect and analyze data from four continents, Taubman said.

Appalachian’s Department of Physics and Astronomy will loan its portable scanning electron microscope (SEM) to Discovery Place for the month of August. Dr. Tonya Coffey trained Discovery Place personnel to operate the SEM to augment the educational programming offered in various labs at the museum. For example, visitors will be able to see an insect’s eye magnified as much as 30,000 times as part of the museum’s program on insects.

“When you have exhibits like those that are at Discovery Place, it excites kids about science,” Coffey said. “If they are excited about science, then they are more likely to pursue science in high school and college. The SEM also a really good learning aid. You can talk about what insects do, but actually seeing the adaptions that have occurred over time and how they work has more impact. It really drives the science home.”

Last summer, faculty from the Department of Physics and Astronomy provided educational programs on nanotechnology using the SEM, which Corbin said were very popular with museum visitors.

“The team at Appalachian has been extraordinary in their willingness to share the cutting-edge work they are doing,” Corbin said. “Being able to study items at the nanoscale is certainly not something the public has access to every day. This has been tremendously beneficial to the guests of the greater Charlotte region.”

The Appalachian State University/Discovery Place partnership developed following talks between John Mackay, Discovery Place president and CEO, and the College of Arts and Sciences at Appalachian. Mackay, a graduate of Appalachian, serves on the College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board. Corbin is a member of Appalachian’s Strategic Industry Council.

“The College of Arts and Sciences’ educational outreach through this partnership with Discovery Place is part of our purposeful initiatives to develop programs in major population centers in the state,” said Dr. Anthony G. Calamai, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “This partnership would not have been possible without the support of the faculty and collaborative spirit of Discovery Place’s John Mackay and Robert Corbin. We suspect a wonderful long-term public-private collaboration for STEM outreach between Appalachian and Discovery Place has been established.”

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