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  August 27, 2001

DaVinci Project Helps Teachers
Bring Engineering into Schools

Twenty-two teachers from Connecticut and Massachusetts became students for a week during the da Vinci Project, a program geared to help teachers in grades seven through 12 integrate basic engineering concepts into their math and science classes.

The da Vinci Project, sponsored by the School of Engineering, was held in Storrs, Aug. 5 through 10. Teachers worked with engineering faculty, learning engineering fundamentals and developing practical curricula and exercises to help them introduce students to engineering.

Amir Faghri, dean of engineering, said the program helps showcase engineering, particularly in the high schools.

"Engineering is a discipline traditionally ignored by the high school curricula," Faghri said. "For this reason, we have developed various outreach programs, including the da Vinci Project, geared to introduce engineering to talented high school students. By specifically targeting high school math and science teachers, the da Vinci Project provides an important intellectual portal in the classroom. Though this is only our second year with the workshop, we are excited by the success, enthusiasm and enormous promise of this unique program."

Participants selected one workshop from six areas of engineering specialization, and spent the week immersed in that area. The majority of their time was spent conducting hands-on experiments.

One morning, six teachers conducted experiments with fuel cells in a workshop run by Jim Fenton, professor of chemical engineering and associate director of the Environmental Research Institute. Later, a fuel cell-powered toy truck was used to demonstrate environmentally friendly vehicles.

High school chemistry teacher Deborah Day said she "jumped at the opportunity" to participate in the program this summer. Students need to know what an important role engineering plays in the world, said Day, who teaches at Amity Senior High in Woodbridge.

"You're exposing new technology to the students that can improve society," she said. "Engineering is all around you. We know about medicine and astronauts, but engineering is very hidden. We need to bring it to the surface."

Robert Vieth, director of the da Vinci Project, said he hopes teachers will learn simple and effective ways of incorporating engineering into their classrooms.

"A heightened understanding of engineering concepts is a start, but it is just as important the teachers leave here with course modules and experiments that easily can be infused into their school's curricula."

Seventh-grade teacher Adam Rosen said he will have plenty of new ideas to share with his students when he returns to the classroom.

Rosen, who teaches conservation and environmental awareness at East Ridge Middle School in Ridgefield, tinkered with a motor on a solar hydrogen model, a complete energy supply system that illustrates how hydrogen technology works. Pointing to a small solar panel, he explained, in simple terms, how solar energy is converted through a fuel cell into electrical energy.

"I'm planning to incorporate this into a lesson on conservation," he said. "I like to promote alternative energies."

Rosen added that he likes his students to know that he has attended workshops. "You're a model learner for them. Coming for a week for our own enrichment sends a positive message to the kids."

Sherry Fisher

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