July 16, 2015
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Teachers flock to summer research academies

Carrie L Martin, martin59 [at] llnl.gov, 925-424-4715

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) Teacher Research Academy (TRA) 2015 summer series kicked off in June with more than 50 science teachers committing their summer breaks to professional development and networking with other like-minded faculty.

The TRA, a summer-long series of educational workshops for teachers, features content developed from LLNL research in areas such as biotechnology, computational modeling, 3D printing and fusion and astrophysics.

The TRA welcomed a dozen new teachers this year for Level I of Biotechnology Research and Computational Modeling and Simulation, with several returning the following week for Level II.


Megan Burgess came all the way from Alexandria, Virginia, for the TRA opportunity. While Burgess, a teacher at the Commonwealth Academy, has been teaching chemistry for 10 years, she was recently given the added responsibility of teaching biochemistry to juniors and seniors.

"It's been a long time since I learned biochemical lab techniques," said Burgess. "I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to brush up on content knowledge and discover excellent biotechnology experiments to supplement and enrich my biochemistry curriculum," she said. "I am looking forward to bringing these fresh biotechnology techniques and experiments back to my students."

Sanya Sandhu and Ellen Nguyen, upper class students at Tracy High School, assisted their teacher Erin Mckay, an instructor of the biotechnology research class, as interns.

"This experience allowed me to gain more confidence in my lab abilities," said Sandhu. "I was able to obtain an understanding of what real-life lab experiences are like rather than classroom-based lab experiences."

"Mckay has enlightened me on what science beyond high school level is," said Nguyen. "This experience has changed me as an individual and has motivated me even more to become a scientist."


The Technical Writing for Science Class, taught by LLNL retiree T.R. Girill, now in its third year, received rave reviews.

"This was a tremendous learning experience. I look forward to implementing these strategies in my classroom this fall, as well as imparting this knowledge to my colleagues," said Laurie Sargent, a teacher at Valley High School in the Dublin Unified School District.

Girill’s workshop covers all aspects of the Common Core state standards for science instruction and prepares teachers to build the technical writing skills of their science students, while motivating them through real-world applications of technical literacy. One participant stated, "This was easily one of the most informative and immediately useful workshops I have attended. I really appreciate this theoretical framework."

The academy teachers participate in a continuum of standards-based instruction, enabling them to progress from novice to mastery in exciting scientific disciplines while they experience the application of real-world science in an environment teachers seldom experience.

The academy's goal is for teachers to increase their understanding of science and technology, gain experience using scientific equipment to perform standards-aligned experiments, improve their ability to provide students a context to understand how science is applied, and improve their ability to guide student research.

During the academy, teachers meet LLNL scientists, visit research laboratories, observe science being performed in a lab and learn technical writing skills to better communicate scientific information, experience the nature of science through direct involvement and use science equipment, processes and practices found in research labs.

"We are providing teachers with a real-world context to teach science," said Joanna Albala, LLNL’s education outreach manager. "Each year this program evolves into something bigger and better."

The TRAs continue through July with levels I and II of Fusion and Astrophysics, and level III of Computational Modeling and Simulation and Biotechnology. Also being offered is a technology workshop in 3D printing and design on July 13. See the schedule for details.

Visit the LLNL Science Education Program website for more detailed information about the Teacher Research Academies and other educational outreach programs, or contact albala1 [at] llnl.gov (Joanna Albala) at (925) 422-6803.