New Worlds: New program teaches science and math teachers

Program at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot aims to raise the low level of Israeli high-school pupils knowledge of scientific subjects and math.

weizmann 88 (photo credit:)
weizmann 88
(photo credit: )
A new program at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot is aimed at raising the low level of Israeli high-school pupils knowledge of scientific subjects and math that has been exposed in recent years in international comparison studies. The innovative "Caesarea Program" will soon be inaugurated at the Rehovot institute. Made possible by the Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Foundation, it will offer masters' degrees in science education to outstanding high-school and middle-school science and math teachers. The three-year curriculum, prepared by Weizmann faculty members, will include studies designed to broaden and deepen scientific knowledge, meetings with scientists working at the cutting edge of research and practice in applying innovative approaches to teaching. Participants will also conduct research in the field of science teaching and gain first-hand experience in leading original initiatives. Teachers will study two days a week for the first two years and one day a week in the third year. The rest of the week, the participants can continue their normal teaching duties. Participants will be selected on the basis of recommendations and personal interviews, and each will receive a study grant in addition to an exemption from tuition. For teachers who already have advanced degrees, the program offers a multi-track option that will integrate practical studies with research. Participants in this branch of the program are also eligible for study scholarships. A continuing education program will be offered to those who finish either track, in collaboration with the science teaching department and other scientific departments at Weizmann, and with the Davidson Institute of Science Education, which also conducts its activities there. The continuing program will support participants in developing and implementing innovative science education projects. The Caesarea Program is open to outstanding science and math teachers who have at least three years of experience. Those teachers chosen to participate are required to commit themselves to teaching for at least another three years. Interested candidates can write to Miriam Carmeli at miriam.carmeli@weizmann.ac.il. POLLINATING BEES CONFUSED BY POLLUTION A rose is a rose is a rose, but when it - or other flowers - grows in polluted air, its fragrance is diminished, thereby inhibiting the ability of pollinating insects to follow scent trails to their source. A new University of Virginia study published in the journal Atmospheric Environment found that air pollution from power plants and road vehicles is destroying the fragrance of flowers and thereby making it difficult for pollinating insects to follow scent trails. This could partially explain why wild populations of some pollinators, particularly bees - which need nectar for food - are declining in several areas of the world. The scent molecules produced by flowers in a less polluted environment, such as in the 1800s, could travel about 1,000 to 1,200 meters; but in today's polluted environment downwind of major cites, they may travel only 200 to 300 meters, said the study co-head, environmental sciences Prof. José Fuentes. "This makes it increasingly difficult for pollinators to locate the flowers." The potential result is a vicious cycle where pollinators struggle to find enough food to sustain their populations, and populations of flowering plants, in turn, do not get pollinated sufficiently to proliferate and diversify. Other studies, as well as the actual experience of farmers, have shown that populations of bees, particularly bumblebees, and butterflies have declined greatly in recent years. Fuentes and his team believe that air pollution, especially during the peak period of summer, may be a factor. To investigate this, they created a mathematical model of how the scents of flowers travel with the wind. The scent molecules produced by flowers are very volatile and quickly bond with pollutants such as ozone, hydroxyl and nitrate radicals, which destroy the aromas. This means that instead of traveling intact for long distances with the wind, the scents are chemically altered. This forces pollinators to search farther and longer, and possibly to rely more on sight and less on smell. The scientists calculated scent levels and distances that scents can travel under different conditions, from relatively unpolluted pre-industrial revolution levels to the conditions now existing in rural areas downwind from large cities. "It quickly became apparent that air pollution has destroyed the aroma of flowers by as much as 90 percent from periods before automobiles and heavy industry," Fuentes said. "And the more air pollution there is in a region, the greater the destruction of the flower scents."