Report 1:   Lauri McCormick McDonald

Report 2:   Ann Martin Sullivan

Report 1
           A summer of interaction with college professors and graduate students has proven an informative and rewarding experience.  On the RET grant, I have had the opportunity to participate in the creation of an educational web module relating polymers and chemistry.  This module will serve students and teachers from kindergarten through twelfth grade.  Creation of the module entailed some lab research, web education with coding in HTML, and interaction with other teachers of all levels.  This unique summer has provided my colleague and I with new insight that we are excited about implementing in our classrooms.

           Working in the polymer lab was a small but important part of my summer experience.  My colleague, Ann Sullivan, and I worked to create polymers using Elmer's glue, borax, sodium silicate, and ethanol.  We spent many trials creating the best ratio of reagents to create the desired consistency to form "bouncy balls."  We also attempted to use liquid laundry starch and cornstarch, but found the results unsatisfactory.  These lab experiences, along with observation of graduate students, gave us a glimpse of scientific research occurring at the university level.  Spending the summer at the University of Southern Mississippi in the Polymer Science Department also provided us with a chance to learn about the different areas of cutting-edge graduate research taking place, ranging from educational research for the Macrogalleria to coatings research for the Department of Energy.

           At the start of the summer, I had a basic knowledge of HTML code, but I was soon to learn much more.  Serving as a resource for the Dreyfus program conducted by the PSLC, I was able to help other teachers learn the basics in HTML and troubleshoot problems that surfaced in the creation of each teacher's own webpage.  This in turn enhanced my capabilities and many times encouraged me to learn new commands that I researched on the web.  And in the creation of my own web module, I learned much about navigation and organization of a complex webpage.  Last year I worked with my high school chemistry classes to create a chemistry webpage for our school, teaching them the basics of HTML.  This year I am excited about continuing this tradition and enlarging its scope to include the other chemistry classes and the physics class on campus.

           Interaction with other pre-college science teachers has given Ann and me invaluable opportunities to share classroom resources and obtain advice on our web module.  Whether learning about video or testing our module, each teacher in the Dreyfus program and the REU program always offered a practical classroom application.  Their useful advice and new information helped form our "Extensions" section and gave us feedback for better webpage navigation.  We also learned much about science for younger students from the elementary teachers with whom we worked.  This collaboration amongst science teaching professionals served as a tremendous resource and has inspired me to enrich my current classroom curriculum.

           From working in the lab to learning from other teachers, the RET summer has been a rewarding program.  I have learned the basics of video and HTML code, new lab techniques, and fun activities to stimulate learning.  I am looking forward to utilizing this module with my students and to presenting this information to other colleagues at a professional meeting.  The summer RET program has given me a wonderful opportunity from which my students and I will continue to benefit for many years to come.

-- Lauri McCormick McDonald

Report 2
          When given a chance to spend a summer at the University of Southern Mississippi working in their nationally recognized Polymer Science Research Center, I jumped at the opportunity.  Without knowing fully what I would be expected to do, I was excited about working with polymer science professionals and learning about the research they were involved in.  In a relaxing and supportive atmosphere, I was encouraged to become familiar with the work being done in the department and then to chart my own path for summer research.  Recognizing the limited polymer education materials available to pre-college teachers, my colleague, Lauri McDonald, and I chose to work together preparing a module on elastomers.  We conducted background research using the Internet and polymer science texts, participated in discussions with university faculty and graduate students, experimented in the laboratory with reagents, consulted with other science teachers, and learned to write web pages using HTML.

          While polymers are an integral part of our lives, polymer science is barely introduced in most elementary and high school textbooks.  Lauri and I agreed that we wanted our polymer research to be both practical and easy to use by teachers from kindergarten through high school.  After selecting elastomers as our focus, we developed an educational module that spans the topic from introductory to an advanced level.  We wrote activities appropriate for a wide range of students.  The links we provided in our module contain necessary background material for teachers and students.

          The training I received in HTML, digital camera use, and video editing was put to immediate use as I worked on web pages for our project.  The personnel in the Polymer Science Learning Center were always available to advise and offer solutions to problems.  Later in the summer, I assisted teachers who attended a two-week Dreyfus workshop, allowing me to test my new skills and to internalize the information.  The versatile group of people available as resources brought new perspectives to our ideas.  For example, as REU students carried out parts of our activity, the Dreyfus teachers observed and critiqued.  They gave us valuable feedback as they used our activity for video practice.  Their videos provided us a source for still photos.  The interaction among all participants was one of the most valuable components of this program.

          As a result of my summer work, I will return to my teaching position with improved computer skills, increased knowledge of polymer science and the research being done in USM's Polymer Science Department, and a greater appreciation for the emerging role of web education.  I am eager to share what I have learned with colleagues and with students who express interest in polymer science and USM.  Using the training in HTML, I will continue to develop my personal web page and make it available to my students and their parents.  My experiences in this unique program have been extremely rewarding and will provide tremendous benefits for my students as I continue my teaching career.

--Ann Martin Sullivan

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