Three Amherst Regional Middle School teachers to present workshop at National Conference on Science Education in Boston

Last modified: Sunday, March 30, 2014
AMHERST — Three Amherst Regional Middle School science teachers will be demonstrating their methods to a national audience in Boston next month.

Jennifer Welborn, Norman Price and Zachary Holmboe will be conducting workshops at the National Conference on Science Education held by the National Science Teachers Association April 3 through 6. The event expects to draw 11,000 educators to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

“I was thrilled to be accepted to present,” said Welborn, who will be joining University of Massachusetts physics professor Benjamin Davidovitch and Mohawk Regional School teacher Wayne Kermenski, to present her workshop called “Patterns Around Us.” That workshop, which the three have also presented at the University of Massachusetts, takes an interdisciplinary approach to using patterns — such as the wrinkles on peas — to explain genetics concepts first observed by renowned scientist Gregor Mendel in the 1800s and to measure and develop nano-scale materials, such as those used for memory applications and micro electronics, Welborn said in an email.

Price and Holmboe’s talk will center on helping to develop computer simulations for situations that students cannot observe such as the actions of molecules.

The conference will feature neuroscientist and actress Mayim Bialik, who stars in the CBS television comedy “The Big Bang Theory, as the key speaker. There also will be other speeches, presentations and field trips during the three-day event.

In her email, Welborn explained that Mendel’s research about why some peas have wrinkles while others don’t led him to develop theories on how traits are inherited, known as the Laws of Mendelian Inheritance. Those concepts, she said, are taught at the Amherst Regional Middle School as part of the state and national science education standards. The hour-long workshop she, Davidovitch and Kermenski will present, she said, guides participants through the process of discovering the biochemical basis for the wrinkling pattern. Welborn and Kermenski will show how they teach their students a model for exploring mathematical and scientific patterns, Welborn said.

The way patterns are used in nanotechnology, which makes it possible to have smaller and smaller devices which hold larger and larger amounts of information, will also be demonstrated, Welborn said. To give an idea of how small a nanometer is, she pointed out that a piece of paper is 100,000 nanometers thick. Scientists are producing materials which are between one and 1,000 nanometers, she said. In order to measure these thin films, forces can be applied to create wrinkling patterns — sort of like pinching the skin on the top of your hand — that can be observed. That observation helps researchers deduce the thickness of the film, Welborn said.

The content of the workshop is based on one Welborn, Kermenski and Davidovitch present during a two-day summer institute at the University of Massachusetts. “Patterns Around Us” will be offered again for science teachers at UMass June 30 to July 1.

Debra Scherban can be reached at DScherban@gazettenet.com.