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Summer physics course prepares high schoolers to study science

by Sherry Fisher - September 5, 2006

High school student Quang Truong says his experience taking Professor Philip Best's physics course this summer will help him adjust to the rigors of college.

"The professor had a lot more expectations than we have in high school," says Truong, who is a senior at Bulkeley High School in Hartford.

"The course was good preparation for me for college. I'll know how to adjust."

Truong was a participant in the Upward Bound/ConnCAP summer experience, a college preparatory program designed to make educational opportunities available to eligible high school students from Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury, and Windham.

Students chosen to participate in Upward Bound must meet guidelines set by federal and state governments.

"The program seeks to provide students with a learning environment that helps them build the skills necessary to succeed in high school and college," says Susana Ulloa-Beal, director of the program.

Students are selected during the ninth grade, and attend summer programs at UConn following their ninth, 10th, and 11th grades.

The six-week residential program places emphasis on literature, composition, foreign languages, science, and mathematics.

During the school year, the high schoolers are in social, recreational, and career-related activities in conjunction with tutoring, developmental workshops, and weekly team meetings.

This summer, a new partnership with UConn's Department of Physics was added to the program.

Students taking part in this aspect of the program took an introductory physics course, earning four college credits for 60 hours of class work. Four high school seniors took the course.

The curriculum included an introduction to mechanics, thermal physics, electricity and magnetism, and atomic physics.

Students were exposed to the world of physics through hands-on activities.

These included liquid nitrogen experiments to investigate the effects of temperature on the properties of matter, and experiments with batteries, wires, and light bulbs to study the properties of electrical circuits.

Best hopes the course inspires students to study science - or even become physics teachers.

"We want to recruit more minorities into the field," he says.

He noted that the small class allowed for questions and student feedback.

"That was probably one of the best parts of the experience," he says. If they didn't understand a concept, Best was right there to lend a helping hand.

That's what Truong liked about the class. "I got a lot of individual attention compared to what I'd get in a large class," he says. "There was more one-on-one time."

Best, who says the students were "very bright," noted that they needed to beef up their mathematics skills.

He says that next year he hopes to work with Alan Haught, a former high school physics teacher, who also had a long career at United Technologies Research Center.

"We're planning even more hands-on activities for next year."

Best says in the future he'd also like to offer the physics course to be offered on intermediate and advanced levels.  

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