Sharing Our Professional Development

Our efforts to develop photonics programs at Kauai, Maui, and Hawaii Community Colleges and the local high schools that have chosen to partner with us have brought us together in Boston to participate in the week-long (July 26 to August 1) Photon PBL (Problem Based Learning) workshop at Boston University's Photonics Center. Alfredo Carbonel (Kauai HS), Keith Imada (Maui HS), Mark Hoffman (Maui CC) and I took advantage of this professional development opportunity funded by an NSF grant to NEBHE (New England Board of Higher Education) to broaden our knowledge of photonics and work through methods for incorporating PBL into our courses to enhance student learning. PBL has long been used in the education and training of medical and legal professionals. Francis Takahashi and Albert Carbonel outside the Photonics Center at Boston University, 2008

The enabling technology of the 21st century is photonics as was electronics in the 20th century. It is of critical importance that we stay abreast of this rapidly developing technology as we begin to see the confluence of photonics, nanotechnology, biomedical technology, and information technology. In this millennium, we know that we have to be prepared to educate students for the new photonics jobs and for jobs that are yet to be defined.

This partnering between the college and the high schools parallels our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Academy project that is developing articulated pathways that will stimulate student interest and facilitate their movement into STEM disciplines and careers.

Our professional development efforts began in 2004 when Alfredo and I joined the Photon family of consortia (college/high school partnerships) that spans across the United States. We participated in Photon2 (four credit on-line course), externships to high tech companies on Kauai, the Hawaii High Technology Career Workshop on Maui, the Photon2 capstone at SPIE (Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers) in San Diego, and the Photon PBL 2007 at Rodger Williams University in Rhode Island. In addition we attended the DEPS (Directed Energy Professional Society) Teacher Education Workshop in Huntsville, Alabama.

Fenna Hanes (NEBHE), Judith Donnelly (Three Rivers CC), and Nick Massa (Springfield Technical CC) have played important roles in the development of photonics at our schools providing coursework, lab experiments with multimedia videos, a standardized lab equipment setup, curriculum development support, and ongoing updates through their list serve, websites, and PBL Blackboard. The DEPS grant has provided additional implementation funding.

Photon PBL 2008
The Photon PBL Professional Development Workshop introduced the participants to four new challenges developed with various institutions:

 Lost Hikers--Penn State's Electro Optics Center's problem for recommending the best technology to find two boys lost in deep woods and rough terrain.

 Measuring Mouse Tendons--University of Pennsylvania's McKay Orthopedic Research Lab's project to study the healing of mouse tendons.

 Testing Compact Fluorescent Bulbs--Cal Poly Pomona's comparison with incandescent bulbs.

 Shining Light on Infant Jaundice--Photodigm/Drexel/SMU's project to develop a safe and effective portable home treatment for jaundice.

Previous challenges introduced at the 2007 PBL workshop were: Laser Wire Stripping; DNA Microarray Fabrication; and High Power Laser Burn-in Test. The eighth challenge is yet to be developed.

The problems were presented online. Participants viewed the introduction, company overview, the problem statement, and the discussion videos. They then worked in teams doing internet research, accessing the media-rich links, and used concept mapping or the "white board" tables for problem analysis, self-directed learning, brainstorming, and the testing of the solution. The solution required the application of photonics principles and the selection of appropriate photonics equipment. Each team presented their solutions some of which were very creative. The solution derived by the institution tasked with solving the problem was then presented.

When the workshop participants return to their classes they will field-test these new challenges. Rubrics are being developed for assessment of student solutions. The field-testing will provide additional feedback so the PBL challenges can be further refined.

The PBL challenges are problem-specific and require some experience or background knowledge in photonics. The instructors can provide the necessary "scaffolding", set the expectations, and can choose an open-ended, guided, or structured format for the solution of the problem in their classes. Perhaps for beginning classes the format has to be more structured or guided to be successful.

Last spring (2008) Alfredo and I field-tested the Laser Wire Stripping problem with our classes. This active learning gave the students the opportunity to work in teams, use their creativity, and critical thinking skills to find a solution to the problem. We presented our results at the workshop.

During the workshop we toured the research labs in the Photonics Center. Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye's name was included on the plaque of the Photonics Center. Its mission is photonics education and research, development of defense/security application, and commercialization (entrepreneurial programs and incubation).

Boston and Cambridge
The picture below from my dorm room at Boston University (BU) shows the Charles River separating Boston from Cambridge to the left. Downtown is in the far center. Both MIT and Harvard are in Cambridge and Boston College is further west, on the rail line that passes by BU. The BU registrar goes to Hawaii twice a year to recruit students primarily from Punahou, Iolani, Kamehameha, and Mid-Pacific Institute. Tuition at BU is $50,000 a year.

We were able to move freely about the Boston and the adjoining urban areas using the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) or "T" to the locals. One way fares to anywhere in the system cost $2 but there is a considerable discount with the purchase of passes.

While not as modern as the Washington DC Metro it proved to be a very efficient means of moving people quickly and in relative comfort except for rush hour when we were very tightly packed.

Boston is one of America's great walking cities steeped in history with names and places along the freedom trail that recall the birth of this nation. There are historical buildings clad in red brick, cobbled streets and sidewalks, many parks and commons, and the picturesque waterfront. Pictured below are shops and outdoor restaurants between the Quincy and North markets which are frequented by people enjoying the mild summer weather.

NEBHE staffer Lisa Goldstein led us on a fast moving rail and walking tour of MIT, Harvard, and China Town. Better health and conditioning is one of the side effects for all the walking that has to be done when using the "T".

We visited the MIT Museum for a guided tour of "Holography: The Light Fantastic" to see how lasers are used to store light information for 3-D projection. "Event Horizon" is shown below but the 3-D projection is flattened by the 2-D photograph. Other displays of interest included robotics and artificial intelligence, gestural engineering, and high speed photography.

Below in Harvard Yard, Alfredo rubs the shoe of John Harvard for good luck as many students are wont to do before exams commenting that he felt an IQ rise of 20 points when we passed through MIT and Harvard.

We gained a new perspective on the application of photonics technology and a deeper understanding of PBL. We will continue our efforts to develop photonics at the community colleges and high schools in Hawaii and hope to get additional high schools to partner with us. In total it was a great professional development, cultural, and culinary experience.

Photon PBL Workshop at Boston University's Photonics Center:
The ongoing photonics program and professional development effort

Date: 08/11/2008
By: F. Takahashi