February 6, 2012

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

HudsonAlpha, NASA, Share Their Knowledge In Classrooms

HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology's campus in Cummings Research Park.

HUNTSVILLE- The Alabama Reading Initiative has made a dramatic difference improving the reading proficiency among public school students. So much so that it's often held up as a model for other states.

The Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, also managed under the State Department of Education, strives for similar success. American schoolchildren are woefully behind students in other industrialized nations in their science and math abilities.

Two lead stories last week in The Times show how Huntsville is working with educators to share its vast knowledge of technology, math and the sciences. HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center are playing a key role in educating students and teachers in those disciplines.

Cameras on NASA's newest moon-mapping satellites are sending classrooms images of a part of the lunar surface they select. The students can then study lunar topography and future landing sites. About 1,000 classrooms around the U.S. have signed up for the MoonKam educational program, which includes educational materials, and NASA hopes more will join to share in its discoveries.

Alabama's science education arsenal has a real gem in Huntsville's HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, state Schools Superintendent Tommy Bice and other area leaders toured HudsonAlpha last week to discuss how the biotech institute could broaden its educational outreach in genetics training to the 1,300 middle school and high school biology teachers throughout the state.

The proposed $600,000 annual authorization from the state education budget would provide traveling two-day workshops for teachers, cover the cost of substitutes and provide meals and classroom materials. Now, such workshops are done only at HudsonAlpha and on a limited basis. Some 175 teachers took part last year.

Dr. Neil Lamb, director of educational outreach at HudsonAlpha, said past efforts have been funded by federal grants and HudsonAlpha money. This would be the first time state resources would be used. And what makes it even more rewarding is that much of the material will come from research discoveries from here in Alabama.

"What this proposal does is, instead of the teachers coming here, we'll host two-day workshops in various places. It's a whole lot easier for them for my team of eight to branch out and go there," said Lamb. "We'll travel on a rotating basis and bring with us a host of new content, new discoveries in the field, linked to what teachers can bring to the classroom. The funding provides for the materials and kits. They get the professional development hours and we'll cover cost for the substitutes."

There will also be an added emphasis on training career tech teachers, Lamb said.

This is one new education program the Legislature should see fit to approve. The training, augmented by kits with props that can be used in the classroom, will give teachers far better insight into the materials than trying to glean it from a textbook.

"This is a world class facility," Hubbard said after his tour. "To not use the brainpower and technological ability here would be a terrible mistake. If this program does what I think it can do, it will mean an outstanding return for the taxpayers."

And how could anyone disagree with that?

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