Wednesday, April 25, 2007

NIST to boost technology skills for teachers

Partnership to offer advanced science and engineering experience

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While students are enjoying their vacation this summer, some Montgomery County teachers will be sitting down for lessons in reaction chemistry, superconductors and quantum mechanics.

The two-week pilot program, set to include 20 instructors from different middle schools, is one in a series to be offered through a new partnership announced last week between Montgomery County Public Schools and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg.

The effort is part of President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative, which aims to improve students’ skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics while making those careers more enticing, said NIST spokesman Michael Newman.

‘‘There’s the fear there might be a drop-off in America’s capabilities in terms of science and technology, and whether that would then have problems for the U.S. industry and their ability to compete in the global marketplace,” Newman said. ‘‘That goes back to the basics of having people better trained, having a better-trained workforce and the innovators of the future.”

Selection process details are expected in a few weeks, said county schools spokeswoman Kate Harrison.

The initial program is expected to bring teachers to NIST’s Gaithersburg campus to attend lectures and laboratory sessions during the first week that will cover a wide variety of subjects, such as nanotechnology, robotics, computer security and optics and lasers.

The second week calls for teachers to shadow NIST staff in the laboratory to gain hands-on experience that builds on the lessons learned in the first week.

More information on other programs also will be announced in the near future, Newman said.

‘‘It’s primarily for educators, but there may be some aspects that can involve students later on,” he said. ‘‘The focus is on instructors with the intent being that if they get firsthand experience in the sciences ... they can take the experience back to the classroom, so they’re teaching more than academics.”

Though this is the first initiative of its kind forged between the two organizations, NIST has previously partnered with county schools through events such as National Engineering Week, the Montgomery County Science Fair and the Adventures in Science program, Newman said.

MCPS is the largest school system in Maryland and is the 16th largest in the nation, with about 138,000 students enrolled in 199 schools.

NIST is a division of the Commerce Department and seeks to promote American innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways to enhance economic security and the quality of life.