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BEAMS: Becoming Enthusiastic About Math and Science

Key Features

Becoming Enthusiastic about Math and Science (BEAMS) brings 5th and 6th grade students and their teachers to the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility from the surrounding area (Newport News, VA) for approximately 15 hours over the course of a week. Volunteers from the Jefferson Lab's technical staff lead the students in age-appropriate, hands-on, inquiry-centered math and science activities, conduct tours of the lab, and provide career role models.

The activities, some of which can be viewed on the Web, have been developed over several years by the Jefferson Lab education staff in conjunction with technical staff volunteers and local teachers. One goal has been to insure that the activities can be integrated into the schools' science education programs. A follow-up Family Night at the lab involves the parents of the students.

Becoming Involved

  • The BEAMS program provides an example of how a large science or engineering laboratory can utilize its technical personnel to have an effect on the science education program of surrounding school districts.
  • For scientists at a laboratory that already has a close partnership with one or more school districts, BEAMS demonstrates a range of roles they can play (e.g., leading instructional activities, helping develop such activities and related materials, hosting tours, acting as a career role model) and a range of commitments they can make--from a few hours a year to a few hours a week.


Goals. BEAMS has four goals:

  • to strengthen the motivation and academic preparation of upper elementary and middle school students, so that they go on to graduate from high school as scientifically literate citizens ready for further education and worthwhile careers
  • to redress the loss of minorities and females from the career pipelines in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology long before high school graduation
  • to enhance the preparation and prestige of teachers
  • to give parents an opportunity to be actively involved in their children's education

Scope. Since 1991, the BEAMS program has involved over 6,000 students and 250 teachers from four local school districts in the Newport News, VA, vicinity and more than 300 members of the Jefferson Lab's technical staff. In a typical year, the program brings 50 classes to the Jefferson Lab and enlists the services of about 100 technical staff members (25% of the lab's total). The first BEAMS students are now in the 11th grade, which has made possible some studies of long-term as well as short-term impact.

The History. The BEAMS concept of an intensive school week at the Jefferson Lab was developed by Dr. Beverly Karplus Hartline, the Project Director, and Dr. Hermann Grunder, the Lab Director, in cooperation with leaders in the Newport News (VA) City Public Schools (NNCPS).

The BEAMS partnership began officially in March of 1991 with seven 5th- and 6th-grade classes from the NNCPS. That fall, three other neighboring school districts (Hampton, Williamsburg/James City County, and York County) were added to the partnership, and 52 classes spent a week at the Jefferson Lab. The activities and accompanying materials were developed jointly by the lab and school personnel. The lab-schools partnership has remained a close one.

Instructional Program. Fifth and sixth grade classes are brought to the Jefferson Lab from the elementary and middle schools of four neighboring school districts. Over the course of a week, the classes are led through 13-15 hours of hands-on, inquiry-centered activities developed primarily at the lab by members of the technical staff. Throughout the experience, students are thoroughly immersed in the research environment of the lab. There is detailed preparation for both teachers and technical staff members and a follow-up Family Night for students and their parents. Plans are underway to extend this program to five days each year for three years--the 5th, 6th, and 7th grade years--to schools with the highest numbers of at-risk students.


The Scientists Involved with BEAMS. A wide variety of volunteering technical staff members lead the activity sessions, arrange other events for the students' five-day visit, and have also been involved in the development of the activities and the accompanying instructional materials.


A Typical Activity Session. In the hour-long activity sessions, under the leadership of a technical-staff volunteer, the students interview the volunteer, engage in a discovery discussion about the lab, do a hands-on, inquiry-centered activity, and in a wrap-up, present and analyze their results, examine the skills they've developed, and discuss how they can apply what they've learned to "real life."


Instructional Activities and Materials. About 20 age-appropriate activities, mostly in the physical sciences (corresponding to the scientific focus of the lab), have been developed and tested at the lab and are the basis for the inquiry-centered classes led by the technical staff members. Accompanying these activities are activity sheets for the students and a teacher's guide for teachers who wish to teach the activities in their own schools. Plans are now underway to develop life-science activities for 7th grade classes and physics activities for 8th grade classes.


Impact. Attitudinal studies of students (pre- and post-tests), indicate that the BEAMS program has a significant impact on student attitudes about science and understanding of what scientists do, awareness that scientists can be women, and so on. Similar studies of teachers and parents also yield positive results. Studies of students four years after the BEAMS experience also show some positive attitudinal effects. At least one nearby industrial laboratory is starting a program modeled on the BEAMS program.


Organizational Information, Funding, and Contacts. A description of the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, the history and present source of BEAMS funding, and various contacts are provided here.


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