Hi! My name is Mike Lanham, and Iím a science teacher at Sprayberry High School in Marietta. Iíd like to share with you my extraordinary experience with the GIFT program this summer and, most importantly, how this experience will help me to be a more effective teacher.
I spent the summer in the microelectronics research center on the Georgia Tech campus working with a materials growth research group. My mentor has the incredible everyday job of making entirely new types of semiconductors: semiconductors that haven't even begun to enter the marketplace; semiconductors that are so fast we're waiting for more up-to-date techniques for measuring their speed. To my mentor, silicon based semiconductors seem old fashioned. My mentorís research group gets to do things that have never been done. Theyíve never been done before because theyíre working with things of their own creation. The end result will be faster computer chips for use in telecommunications as well as computer systems on military aircraft. These chips will be able to operate at such high temperatures that the weight of the airplane can be reduced by as much as 25% because the computers will not need cooling systems.
I got to spend lots of time in the lab observing, asking questions, listening and participating in the most amazing discussions. I got to see the surfaces of semiconductors at the level of the atom. I got to "see" atoms and talk to the people that made the images. Of course the phrase "to see atoms" is used rather loosely!
There is also something exciting about working around things like arsenic compounds, liquid nitrogen and plasma sources or equipment that was largely handmade and cost around one million dollars for each machine! It's an understatement to say that I learned a lot this summer. Actually, I felt like a kid that got to spend an entire summer in the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory.
But the real beauty of this experience was that I was constantly able to bridge my observations to applications in the classroom. The GIFT program has given me the resources to really begin to use the textbook as a supplement rather than as the main focus. It will allow me to draw on current scientific research that reinforces the fundamental concepts found in the textbook. We are already planning on a field trip to the lab and are setting up some classroom activities that accurately demonstrate the research in the lab.
But what has the GIFT program done for my teaching technique and for my students?
It's often been said that children learn better by doing -- that they learn by their own actions. If a teacher's background has been learned by reading, how much more difficult will it be for that teacher to teach by a method of action? By doing? GIFT has given me an opportunity to go out and do the things I've only read about. GIFT has provided an opportunity to see the subject material from a unique personal perspective - one that makes sense to me - enough so that I can bring a real sense of scientific thought and accomplishment directly into the classroom.
I was lucky enough to participate in an exciting summer research program and look forward to taking what Iíve learned and applying it to the classroom. GIFT has allowed me to give.