Paul Helminger

Department of Physics, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL 36688

ABSTRACT- Since 1994, the State of Alabama has funded a state-wide high school science initiative in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics which is centered on a network of traveling vans. The Alabama Science in Motion (ASIM) program provides high school students with laboratory experiences with modern instrumentation and offers their teachers professional development opportunities through workshops and mentoring links with university faculty. Currently, two ASIM vans operate in each of the 11 teacher in-service regions, and these are administered through the state universities in each region. The long range goal is to have 33 vans in operation. Each van is driven by a certified high school science teacher, is equipped with $100K of laboratory instruments, and typically serves 27 regional high school classes on a rotating basis.


The Alabama Science in Motion (ASIM) program is a statewide science outreach initiative to high school Biology, Chemistry, and Physics classrooms. Physical Science classrooms may also be served as time allows. Central to the operation of the Alabama Science in Motion program is a network of traveling science vans that bring modern science laboratory equipment to high school classrooms across the state. Each van is operated by a state-certified science teacher. Currently 22 traveling science vans are in operation and the long range goal of the program is to have vans in all three disciplines at each of the 11 ASIM sites. The vans are Ford Econoline trucks that have been custom converted into mid-sized, 15 ft trucks. The cargo area at the rear of each truck is outfitted with sturdy shelving and there is a central aisle to accommodate the rolling carts that transport equipment to the high school classroom. The mileage that the trucks travel each year depends upon the geographic area served, the number of schools in the area, and the frequency with which each school is served. A typical van might travel about 14,000 mi. in a school year.

The ASIM program is funded by the State of Alabama as a line item in the budget of the State Department of Education and is administered through regional universities across the state. A Project Director oversees the operation of the program at each of these regional universities, and the science departments there carry the primary responsibility for the science content of the program. Typically, a faculty member from the participating science department is designated as the Biology, Chemistry, or Physics Coordinator for that ASIM site. A yearly contract is negotiated between each site and the Department of Education to cover the operational costs of the program. A State Director, housed within the State Department of Education, is responsible for the overall coordination of the ASIM program.

Alabama Science in Motion was established by the Alabama Legislature during the 1994 Regular Session as a practical way to address problems Alabama teachers face in teaching secondary science. Much of the structure of the ASIM program is modeled after the very successful Juniata College science van program. In fact the initial idea for the Alabama program came when a State Legislator viewed an ABC News clip on the Juniata van program and decided to introduce legislation for establishing a similar but statewide effort in Alabama. The Governor signed the legislation for ASIM on May 3, 1994. Because of the enthusiastic support expressed to the Legislature by the students, teachers, and secondary school administrators who were being served by the program, the decision was eventually made to elevate ASIM to line-item status in the state budget. The support for Science in Motion from the constituents that are served by the program is indeed strong.

To facilitate professional development activities for teachers, the State of Alabama is zoned into 11 teacher in-service regions. A university in each region is designated as a teacher in-service site, and it is through these universities that Alabama Science in Motion is administered. A tabulation of the ASIM sites and programs offered is presented in Table 11.

Table 1. Site Locations for ASIM


Host Institution





U. of North Alabama




Athens State U.




Alabama A&M U.



U. of Alabama Huntsville



U. of Alabama

Biology & Chemistry


U. of Ala. Birmingham

Chemistry & Physics


Jacksonville State U.




U. of Montevalo




U. of South Alabama

Chemistry & Physics


Alabama State U.




Auburn U.

Chemistry & Physics


Troy State U.

Biology & Chemistry


Two science vans currently operate in each region. In the first year of operation, funds were only available to place 12 vans on the road. The yearly operational cost per van is somewhat lower than the initial startup cost, and this has allowed an increase in the number of vans since 1994/95 even though Legislative funding has been relatively constant.


The specific goals of the Alabama Science in Motion program are:

The ASIM program places a great deal of emphasis on improving the science programs in both inner city schools and rural schools where traditionally the science programs have not been as strong as in the more affluent areas. ASIM is available to any high school science teacher in our natural science disciplines who chooses to participate.

In meeting these goals, the ASIM program directly addresses several areas of critical need in Alabama's science classrooms. Regarding equipment and supplies, there is general agreement that hands-on activities in a science classroom greatly enhance the learning process for students. However, few science teachers in our state have the resources to run an effective laboratory program. Alabama Science in Motion essentially gives participating high school science teachers access to an equipment storeroom with more than $100 K of modern laboratory equipment in exchange for a commitment to a few days of science workshop activities each year. Regarding teacher knowledge, while the majority of high school Biology, Chemistry, and Physics teachers in Alabama are certified in science education, many are teaching out of their specific field of training. The Science in Motion program includes in its yearly schedule a substantial professional development component for teachers which strengthens content knowledge and provides a direct mentoring link with natural science faculty. Another need for teachers is time. Most science teachers are assigned to teach multiple subjects during the day, and there is little time for them to prepare for laboratory experiments, even when equipment is available. ASIM meets this need with van operators who are certified teachers and who can, if necessary, teach the entire laboratory during their visits without any additional preparation time for the classroom teacher. And finally, addressing the need for changing classroom attitudes towards science, teachers and students alike are motivated by the modern laboratory equipment and interesting experiments provided by ASIM, not to mention the fact that the visit by the van is a nice break in the regular classroom routine.


Following the Juniata College model, each Alabama Science in Motion truck:

The recruitment and retention of well-qualified master-teacher van operators for ASIM is aided by incentives such as an extra month of salary due to the summer workshops and no papers to grade, faculty meetings, or parent conferences. This is in addition to being involved with a stimulating instructional program. The initial equipment purchased for each truck is standard for each discipline but in subsequent years each site can order what they feel will best serve their schools. Regular meetings of van drivers are held to coordinate equipment and to share new experiments. Individual sites have the freedom to select from the overall pool of experiments the ones they want to offer. The common equipment on the trucks in each discipline tends to standardize experiments offered across the state. The participating teachers select from the experiment list and schedule an appointment for an ASIM visit (typically about once a month). Experienced teachers can schedule an equipment drop-off so that they may use the laboratory equipment over a more extended period of time.

Alabama Science in Motion provides participating teachers with the opportunity for 10 days of summer workshops structured in levels according to teacher experience with the program and with 5 days of workshops during the school year. Teachers are paid for all workshops attended. Summer workshop attendance is required for new teachers joining the program. Experienced teachers are asked to participate in at least 5 days of professional development to continue with the program. The workshops often include interesting enrichment activities such as faculty talks, trips to visit laboratories or industries, presentations on teaching methods, lecture demonstrations, testing new labs, etc.

Another important aspect of the ASIM program is that it encourages cooperation among the secondary science teachers, the science education faculty, and the natural sciences faculty to improve science education in each region. This cooperation may include a wide spectrum of activities from workshop presentations on effective teaching methods by the science education faculty to pre-service teacher work with van operators to learn about the practical aspects of laboratory instruction and equipment management. Approximately half of the current Project Directors for ASIM are In-Service Center Directors and the rest are natural science faculty members.


The funding for Alabama Science in Motion has been relatively uniform since the program began. The overall state expenditures have been: $2.71 M in 1994-95, $1.84 M in 1995-96, $2.83 M in 1996-97, and $2.57 M in 1997-98. These expenditures include salaries for the van operators. No overhead to universities is allowed but provision is made for clerical help and for office supplies, mailing, and telephone expenses. The current budget allows a yearly total of $250,000 in each region for the operation of 2 ASIM vans. A more detailed summary of expenditures, provided by the May, 1999, Annual Report on the Alabama Science in Motion Program, is shown in Table 21. There are two items of particular interest in this table. The program currently serves nearly 40,000 bright young students who may someday be our science and technology leaders, and the individual student cost per year of bringing this visionary program into science classrooms is only $66.10. Additional students will be served when the third van at each site is funded.

Table 2. Financial Summary for the ASIM Program.










Students Served





Startup Cost





Operating Cost










Operation Cost/Student






The Annual Report also details the impact of the ASIM program on secondary education. Table 31 gives a summary of school site service activity. In general, the majority of the public classrooms in the state that are not being currently served by ASIM are those for which the teachers choose for whatever their reasons not to participate. In some cases teachers who were participating in the program at one time have now received similar science laboratory equipment from their school systems.

Table 3. School Service Activity.































The impact of ASIM on the professional development of secondary school science teachers is also significant. During the 1997-98 school year, 510 teachers participated in 442 days of Science in Motion workshops, resulting in a total of 4,462 logged workshop days.


The Juniata science van program upon which the Alabama program is based offers both Biology and Chemistry components, but does not include Physics. The materials developed by the Juniata program provided the foundation for the development of the Alabama program in Biology and Chemistry. However, the Physics portion of Alabama Science In Motion, including the choice of equipment and the development of a laboratory manual, had to be built from the ground up. The first column of Tables 4 - 62 presents an inventory of the equipment that is typically available on the ASIM vans. The second (independent) column in each table gives a selection of the more common experiments available to ASIM participants in these disciplines. It is noteworthy that in most cases the laboratory equipment is relatively sophisticated and the experiments performed include many advanced techniques not commonly found in the high school curriculum. In all of the Science in Motion labs, the data collection portion of the experiment is designed to be finished in one 50 minute class period, with the remaining analysis and laboratory report activities left for the teacher to organize. The laboratory manuals in general include "Teacher Notes" sections to help teachers lead the experiment and guide the students in the interpretation of the results.

Table 4. Typical Biology Equipment and Experiments

Biology Equipment

Biology Experiments

2 - Water Analysis Kits

Gel Electrophoresis

1 - Video Camera System

Human Physiology

30 - High Performance Microscopes


3 - Bacterial Incubators


2 - High Speed Centrifuges


8 - Top Loading Balances


2 - Complete Skeletal Systems


15 - Mini-Sub Cells


Table 5. Typical Chemistry Equipment and Experiments

Chemistry Equipment

Chemistry Experiments

7 - Analytical Balances

Chromatography of Kool Aid

1 - Infrared Spectrophotometer (FTIR)

Synthesis of Acetylsalicylic Acid

2 - HPLC's


10 - Nuclear Scalars

Ester Synthesis

12 - pH Meters

Introduction to Nuclear Radiation

12 - Visible Spectrophotometers

Absorbance vs. Wavelength for Food Dyes

8 - CBL Systems with Chemistry Probes

Fractional Distillation

10 - Melting Point Apparatus

Determination of Melting Point

10 - Microscale Kits

Boyle's Law

Table 6. Typical Physics Equipment and Experiments

Physics Equipment

Physics Experiments

16 - Laptop Computers

Match the Graph

12 - PASCO Interfaces with Sensors

Newton's Second Law

12 - Dynamics Cart and Track Systems

Conservation of Momentum and Energy

12 - Projectile Launchers

Projectile Velocity and Range vs. Angle

6 - Rotational Motion Apparatus

Central Force and Rotational Motion

10 - Oscilloscopes


12 - Electrical Circuit Boards with Meters

Ohm's Law

12 - Optics Kits

Reflection, Refraction, and Lenses

12 - Emission Spectra Power Supplies



Many of the Physics experiments are based on the use of laptop computers equipped with "works" and plotting programs. PASCO computer interfaces are used to automate data taking and analysis. The Physics vans also carry a good selection of other laboratory equipment for experiments in sound, electricity, and light. A number of the Physics laboratory experiments written for ASIM are in discovery-based "exploratory" format with follow up questions included to lead students to form their own conclusions about the data.


The Juniata program has reported3 that student participation in their traveling science van program has resulted in a measurable increase in science test scores. While ASIM has not conducted a similar assessment, it is clear that this statewide science initiative is "changing attitudes about science" in a very positive way. Teacher and student comments about the program are highly favorable. Alabama Science in Motion is referred to by many teachers across the state as "the best thing the State of Alabama has ever done for science education and the students of Alabama".


1. Annual Report on the Alabama Science in Motion Program, Alabama State Department of Education, Division of Instructional Services, Alabama Science In Motion Program, May 1999.

2. John Halbrooks, State Director of ASIM, provided many useful details on the operation of the program for the preparation of this document, including information needed for these Tables.

3. Donald Mitchell, Department of Chemistry, Juniata College, Private Communication.