Survey shows Photonics Explorer kits successful in raising next-generation interest in science

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A program aiming to reach 2.5 million secondary-school students and inspire greater interest and proficiency in science for the next generation has recently completed a successful scientific evaluation of impact. The Photonics Explorer program is supported by the European Commission, SPIE, and other photonics science and engineering organizations.

Photonics Explorer student

A student participating in the Photonics Explorer program takes a turn acting as teacher.

The goal is to excite, engage, and educate students about the fascination of working with light.

Preliminary results of a recent evaluation show that the Photonics Explorer kit is meeting the goal of helping to increase interest and competence in science. Ultimately, the program aims to reach more than 2.5 million students across the European Union by equipping secondary schools with learning modules on photonics and related topics. Developed at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel as part of a European Commission (EC) education project, the program is also supported by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, as well as other photonics science and engineering organizations.

The goal is β€œto excite, engage, and educate students about the fascination of working with light,” said Amrita Prasad, CEO of the not-for-profit EYESTvzw (Excite Youth for Engineering, Science, and Technology), which handles large-scale distribution of the kits. EYEST provides teachers with hands-on-experimental material paired with an inquiry-based didactic framework for classroom use, given free of change in conjunction with teacher training courses.

The preliminary study by the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN) evaluated 427 students in 25 classrooms. Both self-efficacy and performance of the students increased after working with the kits, and both increased significantly for female students, Prasad said. Students in general viewed physics as more creative and important, and demonstrated an increase in interest in science as a whole.

A more comprehensive analysis of the effectiveness of the Photonics Explorer kit involving more than 75 classrooms will be completed by November 2012.

Already field-tested with more than 1,500 students in 7 countries, the kit will be introduced into schools in more countries, including Austria and Sweden, in early 2013. The didactic content is currently available in 8 European languages.

As well as increasing interest and proficiency, the Photonics Explorer program informs students about opportunities in working in photonics and other light-related professions, Prasad said. As a result, she noted, the program is β€œa smart investment in the next generation of engineers and scientists.”

Learn more about the program on the website http://www.photonicsexplorer.eu, and find out more about how to get involved as a sponsor or donor or register your interest as a teacher on http://www.eyest.eu. A brief video about Photonics Explorer can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpSyZSdf6ig.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 225,000 constituents from approximately 150 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional growth, and patent precedent. SPIE provided over $2.7 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2011.

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Amy Nelson
SPIE
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