Wednesday, September 23, 2020
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West Chicago science teacher interns at Fermilab

As students occasionally take advantage of summer breaks to relax, attend various enrichment opportunities, or just get away from the school, many teachers use the time for professional development in order to teach those students more successfully in the fall and beyond.

One such professional development opportunity, especially for science teachers, is at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, in Chicago’s far-western suburbs. One of the national laboratories for the US Department of Energy, Fermilab specializes in high-energy particle physics. Its particle accelerator was shut down in 2011, but before then, it was the fourth-largest in the world. Fermilab has been run by the Fermi Research Alliance, a joint venture of the University of Chicago and the Universities Research Association, since 2007.

The particle accelerators with the largest circumference:

  1. Large Hadron Collider, 27 km, CERN in Geneva, completed in 2008
  2. Large Electron-Positron Collider, 27 km, CERN, opened in 1989
  3. Super Proton Synchrotron, 6.9 km, CERN, opened in 1981
  4. Fermilab’s Tevatron, circumference of 6.3 km, turned on in 1983

The Tevatron at Fermilab is perhaps best known for its discovery of the top quark in 1995, and the work at Fermilab continues in support of the international science community, especially in neutrino research, with many scientists from Fermilab attending the announcement of the Higgs boson at CERN in 2013.

Eduardo Montoya, a teacher from West Chicago High School, was selected for an internship program at Fermilab last summer, the Wildcat Chronicle reports.

Mr Montoya told Fermilab in his application that he teaches math and science to a lot of English language learners who are new to the US. The district’s report card shows that the school’s population is about 58 percent Hispanic, compared to a state average of 25.5 percent.

We report this story, frankly, because a student noticed enough of a change in Mr Montoya’s skill as a result of this professional development to write up a feature about him for the student newspaper. The Fermilab summer intern program clearly imparted skills and abilities to science teachers beyond what they had prior to participating in the program, and they brought a deeper understanding of science back to the classroom.

“Being a teacher, your life has to be about taking classes and studying, but it was a high level of content,” editor Mayeli Vivaldo quoted him as saying in the student newspaper. “It blew my mind. The type of knowledge and research that they do is really hard to grasp.”

Sure enough, if you’re working at Fermilab, you’re one of the best. And if you’re one of the teachers selected as an intern for the Teacher Research Associates program, or TRAC, you’re going to work with a scientist whose guidance can increase your awareness and understanding of cutting-edge science and technology and help you transfer it back to the classroom.

The program, which provides “outstanding science, mathematics, computer science, and technology teachers with professional scientific, engineering, or technical experiences,” accepts applications from anywhere in the world, but the $700-per-week stipend paid to interns doesn’t include travel or lodging expenses. But for those teachers who live in the neighborhood, like Mr Montoya, getting to the country’s premier particle accelerator laboratory is a simple commute.

“I had the chance to see and meet people from many different ages and levels of schooling working in science,” the paper quoted Mr Montoya as saying about his hundreds of hours at Fermilab last summer. “There were a lot of people from all over the world and all over the country. They were people dedicated to science.”

The TRAC program, he said, “gives you a big picture of what it’s like working in science beyond the high school classroom. I certainly encourage all the teachers and scientists to look for a chance to attend or participate.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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