A Brief History of the SMILE Program
1986 - 2006
Porter Johnson

The Science and Mathematics Initiative for Learning Enhancement (SMILE) program was preceded by several programs for pre-college teachers of physical science.  One such program was the Two Track Seminar/Workshop for Science Teachers, which operated during 1980-1981 with support from the National Science Foundation.  Here is the official final report on this project:

The objectives were to improve the subject-matter knowledge and understanding of physical science in the teachers of minority students in grades 6-9, and to improve the effectiveness with which those teachers stimulate their students to learn and be interested in science.  During the past nine years an uninterrupted series of science teacher workshops at IIT has led to the development of a corps of enthusiastic and imaginative high school teachers, who are mostly physics teachers from Chicago.  They have developed and sustained a momentum of continuous self-improvement both in subject-matter and in teaching strategy.  Our approach was to transfer the momentum to this group of teachers to a newly-formed group of teachers of middle science (grades 6-9).  This was to be done by a carefully programmed interaction between the two groups.

A survey conducted on the last day shows a strong positive attitude toward their workshop experience by the middle school teachers.  These teachers want the workshop to continue, and when informed of the lack of funding for next year, nine volunteers formed a committee in order to find ways to continue the workshop. They have succeeded in obtaining the cooperation of IIT and the Board of Education, and success is expected.  One must conclude that the workshop has indeed succeeded in its primary objective of transferring momentum to the new teachers.  The implications are that the phenomenological approach that was used can be highly effective, and that it should be extended to additional teachers over several years in order to have a positive effect on the learning of science in the Chicago school system.

SMILE was developed as an outgrowth of this approach in the mid-1980's, through planning by Earl Zwicker and Ken Schug. They hoped to focus on educational needs in mathematics and science in the Chicago area, by organizing a structured series of summer and academic year in-service courses for elementary and secondary teachers. The three key features of the program were to be:

The principal objectives of the program can be summarized as follows: A cadre of experienced high school physics teachers had been meeting at IIT since 1971 to share in developing the phenomenological approach to the teaching and learning of physics. Growing -- in part -- out of that experience, in 1984 a group of 23 high school teachers, administrators, and IIT faculty was assembled to carry out a needs assessment.  Here is a summary of the needs that were identified: The group concluded that the needs of elementary school teachers should be treated in a quite different way from those of secondary teachers.  Furthermore, the elementary teachers needed the greatest help in physical science, rather than life sciences.  A five year proposal was submitted to the National Science Foundation, and the program was funded for a period of three years, with the possibility of continuation.

Zwicker and Schug felt that a period of many years is required in order to change the outlook of teachers so that they would regard the program as belonging to them.  They should feel so good about their experiences that they would not want to stop meeting, and keep growing into increasingly better teachers. The first regular program ran for five weeks during the summer of 1986, which was followed up by bi-weekly meetings during the 1986-1987 academic year.

Several teachers attending the first-summer became staff members and/or long-term participants in the SMILE program:  Larry Alofs, John Bozovsky, Ann Brandon, Roy Coleman, Lawrence Freeman, Joel Hofslund, Edwina Justice, Rudy Keil, Steven McVeigh, Fred Schaal, James Szeszol, Ilene Wagner, and Carol Zimmerman.  The first year high school staff members were Steve McVeigh (biology), Val Dyokas (chemistry), Lawrence Freeman (math), and Roy Coleman (physics).

In addition to its emphasis upon the phenomenological approach to teaching,  two additional components made the SMILE program different from many of the other teacher education programs.  They were the computer and shop components, which are described below.  Lee Slick, as well as James Szeszol, provided valuable shop expertise in the program for many years.

Each participant prepared a mini-teach lesson that was developed, critiqued, and refined during the program.  A video tape of the presentation was frequently made for the participant to study and to help refine the presentation.  He/she then used a computer to write up the mini-teach, and the writeups were assembled electronically in the PC laboratory at IIT, using PC-WRITETM software.  Writeups and the software easily fit onto a 5 1/4" floppy disc!   This represented the first experience with personal computers for most of our participants and staff.   Since the participants were required to use the computer to write up their mini-teach lessons, the computer session also consisted of teaching MS-DOS commands and how to navigate around the operating system, in addition to how to use the word processing program. These writeups were then assembled into a "SMILE book", and a copy was given to each participant  when they returned in September for the academic year program. (See photo: SmileBooks.)   A grading program, GradeGuideTM was also provided, giving many of the participants their introduction to computerized grading. 

In addition, each participant worked to design and construct apparatus used in his mini-teach.  This was done in the Physics Department Student Shop in the basement of  Siegel Hall.  Since very few teachers had ever used equipment like drill presses, band saws, and power sanders, training sessions were held at the start of the summer program.  Teachers were then encouraged to build whatever equipment they needed for their mini-teach lesson.  The SMILE program provided the raw material for the project --- wood, metal, plastic, cardboard,  etc -- to construct a large array of interactive teaching apparatus.  In some cases the participants were able to build class sets of their equipment.  Many teachers completed additional shop projects.  (See photos and project lists for 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000.)

The computer and shop facilities, which were permanent fixtures in the summer programs, were very popular with participants, who began to take advantage of these resources in their daily academic year instructional activities.

Plenary sessions on specific topics in science (e.g,. holography) and pedagogy (e.g., cooperative learning), as well as field trips to educational institutions, were incorporated into the program.  At the end of the summer, a rap session was held, in which participants critiqued the program, indicating problems encountered and suggesting changes for improvement.  The feedback from this meeting -- as well as from the more formal written evaluations made by participants and staff -- served as a basis for improving the next year's program.  Each participant received a stipend for completing the SMILE summer program, and staff members were compensated as well.  This compensation was considered to be an essential component of the program, to recognize the time and energy required.  In addition, participants and staff were given graduate course credit at IIT, and a certificate of appreciation.

The principal reason  that the SMILE program was able to operate continuously for two decades was that it continually assessed its programs, and implemented changes as necessary and appropriate, capitalizing upon funding and other opportunities that arose in the course of  time. The program really belonged to the teachers.  Perhaps the finest example of this adaptability involves the computer element of SMILERoy Coleman wisely saved the electronic information.  In the year 1993, he realized that the individual presentations could be stored on a set of diskettes for access on any PC.  We began to provide all the summer presentations at cost to anybody who agreed to use them for educational purposes only, and not commercial use. A few years later he realized that these presentations could be put onto the newly functioning world wide web, where they have been in place for more than a decade at the SMILE website:  http://www.iit.edu/~smile.  We have counted over 500,000 hits to that website over the past decade.  In addition, the summer presentations, as well as other educational materials that were developed, are available at cost on a CD-ROM.

Porter Johnson began involvement with the SMILE program during the 1993 Academic Year.  His research collaborator had recently left the department, and the prospect of becoming involved in science education seemed exciting.  He replaced Earl Zwicker in the day-to-day operations of the SMILE program.  Earl had retired in 1991, but remained active in the SMILE program throughout its two decades of operation. Porter had primarily been teaching advanced undergraduate and graduate courses prior to joining SMILE.  He intended to make a difference in the quality of science education in pre-university education by helping teachers develop exciting pedagogical tactics, and by providing access to knowledge at a deeper level where appropriate.  While most of the teachers lacked the mathematical sophistication of the students he had previously been teaching, he found them to be industrious, hard-working, and determined to understand the world around them.  They developed science lessons based upon automobile crashes, amusement park rides, trips to the zoo, and experiments that could be done by any student with household materials.  The dedication  of many excellent teachers was certainly evident to their SMILE colleagues.  SMILE functioned effectively as a "support group" in which teachers could share their joys and their difficulties with colleagues in a non-threatening atmosphere.  Porter spent a lot of time watching and listening to the teachers, although when he had something to say his comments were certainly appreciated.  Much of the dialogue in the later years of the academic year program is preserved in the SMILE database.  The teachers were striving to develop exciting, live presentations of basic concepts in math and science  to their students.  They were intensely interested in science, and sought a deeper understanding of it.

Ben Stark joined the SMILE team about 1990, initially taking over the responsibilities for the Biology group from Dan Koblick (now emeritus); he was recruited to the program by Earl Zwicker. For subsequent years Ben was the professor of record and staff member for the Biology group, which during that time was very active. During the 1990's, as we did with the other SMILE groups, we ran the Biology program each semester of the academic year and during the summers. In the 1990's Chuck Buzek, Barbara Pawela and Terri Donatello, among others, were long serving staff members for these summer sessions.

In 1998, the the Biology and Chemistry SMILE classes were merged into one section  Initially Ben and Ken Schug co-directed this section; for the last few years of SMILE, Ben ran this merged section by himself. During this later period such SMILE members as Pat Riley, Terri Donatello, Ed Scanlon, Chris Etapa, Barbara Pawela (five real SMILE veterans) and relative newcomers Walter Kondratko and Ron Tuinstra contributed particularly excellent and sophisticated PA presentations to the group.

In general, throughout the period of 1990-2006 the Biology and Chemistry SMILE participants were a great, motivated group. Particularly for the teachers in the elementary and middle grades -- including Barbara Lorde, Carol Giles, Marva Anyanwu, Wanda Pitts, Brenda Daniel, Lilla Green, Winnie Malvin, and Ann Parham. The SMILE program provided real enhancement in the understanding of science, and pointed the way to teaching it effectively.

The SMILE program functioned marvelously over a period of two decades, because of the dedication of its staff and participants. These long-term participants made unique, timely, valuable contributions to SMILE:

 Larry Alofs, Bill Blunk, Jami English, Karlene (Kurth) Joseph, Don Kanner, Debby Lojkutz, Betty Roombos, Fred Schaal, Bill Shanks, and Arlyn van Ek.

For a photo of attendees of our last SMILE meeting, 06 May 2006, click here:  LastSmileClass.

Reminiscences on the Early Days of Phenomenological Education in the Chicago Area
Roy Coleman

For 25 of us who taught Physics for in the Chicago Public School system, the grandfather of all classes was the one that Jens Midtaune arranged for us at Lake Forest College with Harald Jensen during the 67-68 school year. He was the master of teaching the phenomena. As far as I know, only five of us are still in the area ---V. K. Brown, Roy Coleman (yours truly), Rudy Keil , Lee Slick, and  Eileen Wild.

After that, classes were held at Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Illinois Chicago, and Roosevelt University  on PSSC Physics, Harvard Project Physics and Man Made World - all showing the phenomenological approach (BUT before it was called that).  The classes in the late 60's and early 70's were mostly sponsored through the NDEA (National Defense Education Act) as a post-Sputnik reaction. NDEA also provided some very nice equipment to the high schools. Bob Estin and Ed Piotrowski ran an in-service program based upon  Harvard Project Physics a little before the 'Tuesday series" of classes began at IIT in 1971 or 1972. The IIT instructors at my first Tuesday class there were Earl Zwicker (Physics) and George Ross (Educational Psychology), with Joe Meyer (then at Oak Park-River Forest High School) in the shop and Don Porter (that was not his real first name but that is what we called him) as the HS staff member. Don's most impressive 'trick' was holding a discharge tube in his mouth and backing toward a Van de Graaff -- a spark through his head lighting the tube. (It never worked very well for me, since I had too much hair.)

 I remember the first class that  Earl 'taught'. After the introductions, Earl started to explain one of the demos that he had planned to show us --- he went to the blackboard and started to derive something or other. About half way through his spiel, Joe Meyer and a few others stopped him . They went to get the equipment to SHOW US, rather than to tell us. Earl just stood there in the middle of a sentence with his 'dumb look' -- as much as saying that isn't how teaching should be done.

EARL -- I have always wanted to ask if that was the way you guys planned it? 

After years of hearing about new stuff, I think that we older science teachers have been doing it the new way all along.

OK--I'll get off of my soap box.

    Back to the SMILE program.