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ALII Program Inspires Teachers

ALII, the Astrobiology Laboratory Institute for Instructors, held its inaugural course, "Instructional Strategies for Astrobiology I," June 14–18 at UH Manoa. Fourteen teachers from Oahu and Tennessee participated. The goal of the workshop, according to workshop organizer Mary Kadooka, was "to introduce the teachers to astrobiology research findings and inspire them to want to learn more."

ALII is the K–12 formal education outreach program of the UH's NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) Lead Team (see Na Kilo Hoku no. 10, winter 2004). The Lead Team has received a five-year grant from NASA to research the role water has played in the development of life on Earth and beyond.

Clockwise from top left:

Geophysicist G. Jeffrey Taylor explained the polarizing microscope to ALII teachers.

Pamela Harman, the SETI Institute education manager, introduced the VTT program.

Chemistry graduate student Chris Bennett (back to camera) introduces ALII participants to the Cryogenic Chemistry Laboratory.

The ALII program included lectures, tours of astrobiology-related UH Manoa laboratories and shops, and activities drawn from the Voyages through Time (VTT) curriculum. Reading assignments, consisting of articles from the Scientific American, supplemented the daily activities.

IfA astronomers Karen Meech (head of the UH Lead Team), David Jewitt, and Jonathan Williams, as well as UH geophysicists, chemists, and an oceanographer, inspired the teachers with their talks about a wide variety of astrobiology-related subjects: astrochemistry, star formation, small solar system bodies (comets, asteroids, Kuiper Belt objects), evidence for life on Mars, the origin of Earth and its oceans and atmosphere, life in Earth's most extreme environments, and the Moon as a key to understanding Earth's early history.

They also learned about cryobots, instruments used to penetrate deep ice fields on Earth and beyond, and they visited the UH cryogenic chemistry laboratory. Participants also saw the IfA machine shop and adaptive optics laboratory. In their workshop evaluations, the ALII teachers expressed their appreciation of the lectures and laboratory tours.

VTT is a one-year, integrated science course for ninth- or tenth-grade students developed by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, the California Academy of Sciences, NASA Ames Research Center, and San Francisco State University. It promotes the understanding that "evolution is the result of cumulative changes over time that occur in all realms of the natural world" and that "science is a process of advancing our understanding of the natural world, not a set of final answers." Pamela Harman, the SETI Institute education program manager, came to Hawaii to conduct the VTT activities.

Most of the ALII participants teach high school, but even the elementary and middle school teachers found that some of the basic VTT activities could be adapted for their classes. Beginning this fall, they will implement VTT modules in their classrooms.

ALII was enriched by the participation of the teachers from Tennessee, who were sponsored by the Indiana-Princeton-Tennessee Astrobiology Institute, another lead team that focuses on detection of biosustainable energy and nutrient cycling in the deep subsurface of Earth and Mars.

The ALII program is designed to build on the experience of the TOPS program, which instructed math and science teachers about how to incorporate astronomy into their curricula (Na Kilo Hoku no. 8, summer 2003). Eight of the 14 teachers had previously participated in TOPS. Follow-up sessions are planned to share their experiences teaching astrobiology and to continue to increase the number of teachers with the skills to make use of the Faulkes Telescope (Na Kilo Hoku no. 11, spring 2004). Future workshops will probably make use of the IfA's Internet video conferencing system to include neighbor island teachers.