Virtual learning

Retired Sequim High School teacher Dave Trapp can pinpoint the time he became interested in science - in high school when his mother was diagnosed with, and later succumbed to, breast cancer.

"I realized that if I wanted to prevent other people from going through that, I had to do it through science," Trapp explained. "I thought teaching others science, so they could go off and change the world, would be more effective than just becoming a scientist myself."

After 40 years of teaching physics, chemistry and occasionally math and biology at SHS, Trapp retired in 2005. Just as he was in the process of finishing up his last school year, Trapp said he got a phone call from a Bainbridge Island high school classmate, former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munroe.

"He said, 'I've got just the thing for you, Dave,'" Trapp recalled, laughing.

"Just the thing" was a monthlong trip to Ethiopia with a group of Rotarians who were helping administer polio vaccines.

During the trip, Trapp spoke to many students and adults who said the country's schools were desperately in need of qualified teachers.

"Everywhere we went, they said 'Send teachers!' but we don't really have any spare teachers," Trapp said. "That's when I thought, if we put lessons on the Internet, we can allow them to learn everything even though we can't send actual teachers."

That's when Trapp found his new purpose - to post lessons and experiments online that anyone can access in a process he calls "mass education." He began his Web site 18 months ago and has received more than 11,000 hits.

Trapp makes the experiments easy to understand because, as he puts it, it's not only scientists who need to understand science.

"Everybody needs to understand the world in which we live, it's not just scientists," he said. "It's anyone who wants to live in the world."

In early September, Trapp, three other high school teachers from across America and 10 students were invited to Chicago's FermiLab, where they participated in the celebration of the world's newest science facility, on the Swiss-French border. There, they gathered around a screen to virtually watch and celebrate the first beam of protons to successfully circle the high vacuum, extremely cold beam pipe.

For Trapp, who said it was wonderful working with the students, whom he hadn't known before, the virtual experience made him more determined to make science education more easily available to students in this country and internationally.

After all, as Trapp likes to say, the best teachers can teach from anywhere.

"I think a good teacher stays in the background," Trapp said. "You educate, you empower and then you let the students go."

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