FEd Summer 2001 Newsletter - Alabama Science in Motion

Summer 2001



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Alabama Science in Motion

Jill Shearin Driver


Alabama Science in Motion (ASIM) is a visionary educational program established in 1994 by the Alabama Legislature to address problems Alabama teachers face in teaching high school science. As a discipline rooted in experimentation, science requires an understanding of the scientific method that is acquired through "hands-on, minds-on" laboratory activity.

Equipment, supplies, lab preparation time, and knowledge of science are essential elements of an effective laboratory program. Many, if not all, of these qualities are often lacking in science classrooms in Alabama. Few schools have the equipment and supplies needed to run an effective laboratory program and high percentages of science teachers, particularly in chemistry and physics, are teaching outside their major field of study.

Science teachers, like most other teachers, teach multiple subjects during the day. Running a laboratory component for each different subject requires preparation time that most teachers do not have. Moreover, without appropriate equipment and supplies, teachers are not motivated to prepare lab activities.

ASIM is a network of resources designed to provide equipment, supplies, training, and preparation support so that secondary science teachers may run an effective science laboratory program.


ASIM currently consists of eleven regional sites in Alabama; every high school in the state is served by one of the eleven sites, thereby giving equal access to all of Alabama's teachers and students regardless of their schools' economic status. Each of the eleven sites has two vans (one for each of two disciplines chosen from chemistry, biology, or physics), as well as a master's-level teacher for each of the two disciplines.

The ASIM program has two primary components: (1) providing teacher training, and (2) providing equipment and supplies to the participating teachers and their students.

The teacher component provides 15 days of training per year--10 in the summer and 5 throughout the academic year. Training is designed to update and strengthen teacher content knowledge, to familiarize teachers with the operation of ASIM equipment and labs, and to model effective teaching strategies. Labs are designed to align with objectives of the state's course of study for science and with teachers' needs.

The master's level "van driver" delivers equipment and prepared labs to participating teachers based on scheduled requests. The "van driver" typically stays with ASIM beginning teachers and team teaches the lab until the classroom teacher feels confident in using the equipment and conducting the lab alone. Veteran ASIM teachers just have the requested equipment and supplies for a lab dropped off. Typical equipment used in physics experiments is given in the table below.*

Physics Equipment

Physics Experiments

16 - Laptop Computers

Match the Graph

12 - PASCO Interfaces with Sensors

Newton's Second Law

12 - Dynamics Cart and Track Systems

Conservation of Momentum and Energy

12 - Projectile Launchers

Projectile Velocity and Range vs. Angle

6 - Rotational Motion Apparatus

Central Force and Rotational Motion

10 - Oscilloscopes


12 - Electrical Circuit Boards with Meters

Ohm's Law

12 - Optics Kits

Reflection, Refraction, and Lenses

12 - Emission Spectra Power Supplies


 *Table provided by Paul Helminger, Department of Physics, University of South Alabama

Many of the Physics experiments are based on the use of laptop computers equipped with "works" and plotting programs. PASCO computer interfaces are used to automate data taking and analysis. The Physics vans also carry a good selection of other laboratory equipment for experiments in sound, electricity, and light. A number of the Physics laboratory experiments written for ASIM are in discovery-based "exploratory" format with follow up questions included to lead students to form their own conclusions about the data.

Impact: School Sites

The information below details the number of individual school districts, schools, teachers, and students that ASIM impacted during 1999-00:

School Districts: 118 (of 128 in the state)

Schools: 278

Teachers: 548

Students: 47,870

On average during the 1999-00 academic year:

  • ASIM equipment was used by 41 teachers per day;
  • Teachers used the equipment 13.4 days;
  • Students used the equipment 9 hours.

Impact: Teacher Development

The following summarizes the ASIM teacher training conducted during 1999-00:

  • 574 teachers participated;
  • 400 teacher training days were offered.
  • On average, each of eleven sites held 36.4 teacher development days with 10.1 teachers present each day.


Alabama Science in Motion is a nationally recognized model for secondary science outreach which provides services to students and teachers on a cost-effective basis. Funding from the Alabama legislature currently provides $125,000 per van per year; cost-sharing is provided, in addition, by the universities at which each ASIM program is housed. Funds pay for the following costs: master's-level "van driver;" equipment and supplies; substitutes, mileage, and per diem for teachers on training days; consultant costs for providing training; technical support to assist "van drivers" in lab preparations; part-time clerical support; professional development for the "van drivers."

ASIM provides the opportunity for instruction and laboratory experiences that few students, especially in rural and poor school districts, could ever hope to receive without such a program. Additionally, the program fosters cooperation between high school teachers and university faculty who typically lead the training sessions. Moreover, ASIM impacts pre-service teachers at the university who, as part of their methods course in teaching science, work with "van drivers" to learn about laboratory safety and management, lab preparation, lesson planning, and effective instructional strategies using technology.

Dr. Jill Shearin Driver is Director of the University of Alabama Inservice Center as well as Director of the Alabama Science in Motion program at UA.