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COVID-19 update: The 2020 summer workshop has been postponed to July 2021. We are working with STCC to determine whether it will be in person or online. We delivered 10 webinars during 2020, hosted by the Optical Society (OSA) and we are planning to hold 3 more this 2021 spring semester. Visit our web site for recordings of past webinars and topics dates of future webinars.

Springfield (MA) Technical Community College (STCC)'s new ATE project will introduce both the PBL instructional method and advanced photonics manufacturing (APM) applications. The project team will be developing eight new PBL Challenges (case studies) with industries and research universities involved in APM- manufacturing with light!

Participation in the three-year AMP-PBL project includes:

  • Invitation to attend free webinars– five to introduce optics and photonics and the PBL instructional method and eight additional webinars with ideas for home-teaching and outreach in optics/photonics
  • A four-day APM-PBL workshop at STCC during the third week in July, 2021 to introduce the Challenges developed by the APM-PBL project team. Registration is free and travel reimbursement up to $1000 is available for U.S. participants.
  • A free copy of LIGHT: An Introduction to Optics and Photonics by Donnelly and Massa, published by Laurin (Pittsfield, MA).
  • Ongoing support and mentoring in PBL instructional methods and topics in advanced photonics manufacturing teachnology.
  • Field testing of STEM PBL Challenges during the 2021-22 academic year. A $500 stipend per Challenge (for up to two Challenges) will be paid upon submission of implementation reports (for U.S. participants only).




About Us

The PBL Projects team has been working together since 1995 to improve STEM education, principally in optics and photonics. Our previous ATE awarded projects to the New England Board of Higher Education include:

  • Fiber Optic Technology Education Project (1995-1998)  - Teacher professional development and lab improvement in fiber optic technology
  • PHOTON (2000-2003) - Curriculum and laboratory improvement including lab kit, instructional modules and lab videos,  formation of regional alliances of schools and industry, professional development in optics/photonics
  • PHOTON2 (2003-2006) - Expanded PHOTON across the U.S. though an online hands-on course in optics/photonics, developed Optics Exploration videos and 15 chapter textbook from PHOTON modules - LIGHT-Introduction to Optics and Photonics
  • PHOTON PBL (2006-2009) - Developed the PBL Challenge model in cooperation with industry, professional development for teachers, developed and field tested 8 Challenges (case studies) and conducted research on their efficacy in photonics education
  • STEM PBL for Sustainable Technology (2009-2012) - Expanded PBL model across U.S. through online professional development course, developed and field tested 6 Challenges.
  • PBL in Advanced Manufacturing ((2012-2015) - Professional development in PBL implementation, developed and field tested 6 Challenges, created "how to" guide for making Challenges based on course needs.

For details on all of our ATE projects visit our web site

What is Photonics?

Photonics is the technology of generating and using light energy. Photonics is an enabling technology for applications in sensing, medicine, transportation, communications, manufacturing, imaging and defense.


News from the Problem-Based Learning in Advanced Photonics Manufacturing (APM-PBL) Project

(November-December 2020) Two webinars for teachers were presented, hosted by OSA- introduction to geometric optics, and introduction to wave optics.

(October-November 2020) Science Friday webinars continued with topics fluorescence and phosphorescence, lasers and flashlights, more things to do with a laser pointer, and diffraction.

(May 2020) Four interactive webinars were hosted by the Optical Society (OSA) introducing engaging hands on activities suitable for children age 9-12. The "Science Friday" series topics were spectroscopy, reflection, light and shadows, and polarized light art. Links to the recordings can be found on our web site

(September 2019) The fourth Challenge for the APM-PBL project was recorded at IPG Photonics Applications Laboratory in Northborough, MA. This is the third problem recorded at an IPG Photonics facility since the start of the PBL Projects in 2006. Like the problem recorded at MIT, the solution to this problem (truss welding) requires geometry and basic algebra skills.

(September 2019) The AM-PBL team spent a morning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA working with a research team from the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics) initiative's AIM Photonics Academy to develop a PBL Challenge on methane gas sensors. The team was treated to a tutorial on photolithography as well as detailed information on the geometry of the sensor being developed and a visit to the laboratory where it is being tested. This is the third Challenge developed in preparation for the 2020 summer educators' workshop on implementing PBL in the classroom using PBL Challenges.

(August 2019) The first two new PBL Challenges of the APM-PBL project were recorded at Convergent Photonics (Chicopee, MA) and Coherent (formerly Nufern) in East Granby, CT. Both problems deal with testing optical fiber, but from completely different points of view. The project team talks to former students and other connections in industry to locate interesting problems that have been solved by companies and turns the problems into web-based Challenges for students to solve. Good problems for PBL are those that have not been published (so students can't just look up the solution) and are typical of the day-to-day problems encountered by engineers and technicians. We use problems that have already been solved to give students (and instructors) a benchmark for comparing their own solutions. The current PBL Challenges developed by the PBL Projects can be found at

(July 2019) As part of the STCC Campus for Kids summer program, we hosted two 2-day "laser camps" to introduce middle school students to optics and photonics. With a variety of hands-on projects like pinhole photography, laser material processing and holography, each student was able to take home several items "made with light" to show to family and friends.


What is Problem-Based Learning?

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a learner-centered instructional method in which students learn by actively and collaboratively solving authentic real-world problems. Students learn the process of structured problem solving while they are learning course content by engaging in a systematic and recursive process