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Summer 04 review

“What is an Education Foundation?”

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I can answer “What is the ‘Shodor Education Foundation’?” from personal experience.

Our official mission is: “To advance science and math education through the use of computational science, modeling and technology.” To the public, Shodor looks like it is a doctor’s office, or other professional building. This is not entirely inaccurate. At our current location on Broad Street in Durham, we reside in a building formerly occupied by a doctor’s office. The building is not at all suggestive of what we do, beyond having a blue tetrahedral logo on our sign out front.

However, if you come inside, or look on our website (, you will find a lot of interesting projects going on. During the summer you will find classes of 8-15 middle- and high-school students studying topics like forensic science, engineering, physics, process modeling, biomedical science, and more. But that is merely our ‘public’ end-product. Shodor is a Computational Science Research Foundation, started by Robert Panoff, PhD. in 1994 to further science and technology training in both primary educational institutions, and in colleges.

Dr Panoff has led myriad workshops with teachers in both the greater Durham, NC region, and all over the country - even in other countries. There has been a great push to get computers in the classroom. However, most teachers don’t fully understand how to utilize those machines to facilitate or enhance education. They just sit in the classrooms for students to type their reports and papers, or to surf the internet and check their email, chat over instant messaging and the like.

Shodor was started to help teachers use these powerful tools for more interesting activities than those I just mentioned. Over the past 10 years, Dr Panoff and the staff here at Shodor have created over 100 applets and accompanying lessons to be used in the classroom. And that just the tip of the educational iceberg. There are fully-developed and debugged curriculums available to teach to entire classes of 6th-12th graders the basics of a multitude of scientific disciplines.

This summer, we had 8 week-long, 3 hours/day workshops for 6th-9th grade students from the Durham and Chapel Hill school districts. Topics covered included engineering, forensics, and environmental science, among others. At the end of the summer, we held our annual Shodor Scholars Program, a 3-week, full-day workshop for 10th through 12th grade students, covering in more detail many of the shorter workshops, with a goal of preparing the students in attendance to be interns at Shodor in the future.

All of this is ambitious enough, but add to the mix that we are a non-profit organization! All of our funding comes from grants. Grants from places like the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the National Science Foundation. And most of the work accomplished during the summer is done by high-school and college students. I’m a junior studying computer science and computer information systems at Elon University. Other people I have worked with this summer attend Riverside High school in Durham, Meredith College, NC State University, UNC Chapel Hill, NC School of Science and Math and many others.

All of the workshops taught throughout the summer have undergrad assistants - some are even taught by the interns. I had the opportunity to teach part of the Engineers in Training workshop at the beginning of the summer. That was a completely new experience for me, as I had never taught a class before. I have tutored on an individual basis in the past, and had given lots of presentations for school, but had never actually taught a group before June of this year.

Because we are an Education Foundation, and we hire lots of high school and college students, there is a great opportunity for us to learn, too. This year, there were three workshops specifically made available for the interns. The first was a teaching workshop: how to make us better teachers. We went through a few group-leader activities, and discussed various teaching styles and methods, trying to prepare us to be ready to use any or all of them to be effective when teaching a class.

A couple weeks later we were offered a Scientific Programming class and a Dynamic Web Programming class. I learned PHP during the Dynamic Web class. The Scientific Programming covered several tools that now sit comfortably in my programming toolbox, including mathematical methods and a really cool simulation package.

At the beginning of the summer, I taught myself Java. Each of the interns at Shodor has an assigned ‘Mentor’, and my Mentor, Garrett Love, PhD., wanted me to update an applet he had written a couple years ago for one of the workshops he designed: Engineers in Training. Since I never programmed in the language before, I had quite a bit to pick up, but was successfully able to update the applet, and when I helped teach the EIT workshop a couple weeks later, I was able to have the students use the applet I had updated.

So, what is the Shodor Education Foundation? It’s a lot. It’s a place to teach interested students about math and science. It’s a place to learn all sorts of helpful technologies like Java, HTML, and PHP. And it’s a job. Yes, it’s a job. There is a lot of work to be done, but it’s almost all in a setting of learning, and creating new tools to help others learn. I’ve worked here for a little under a year, having started October 2003, but I have learned a huge amount during my time so far.

I’ve programmed, designed web sites, and taught. I’ve written utility scripts, updated an applet, and am working on another. I proofread and edited the first three parts of Engineers in Training, and wrote almost all of the material for the last two segments of the workshop. This summer, I was one of about forty interns. Each of us was kept busy doing various and sundry projects, all of which are now, or will be soon, used in various workshops, by staff, interns, and the general public on our website.

I look forward to doing a lot more of the same over the upcoming months as we lose most of our interns to that pesky fall, winter, and spring activity: school. It does get a bit slower around here during the school year, but even during the school year we have workshops on Saturday mornings for interested students.

So, come check us out. We’re available 24×7 online at, and 9-5 Monday through Friday at 919-286-1911.