Each summer dozens of teachers descend on the small, lakeside city of Ithaca, New York. Settling into Cornell University’s dorms for up to two weeks, they spend their days attending lectures by leading researchers, sharpening their laboratory skills, and exploring the natural gorges, fossil sites, and bogs in the area.
Nearly 1,000 teachers have participated in these wildly popular summer workshops, which HHMI has supported since the program’s creation in 1989. Originally designed for high school teachers, the workshops have since expanded to welcome middle and elementary school teachers, as well. At the workshops, high school teachers learn about advances in basic biology and applications of molecular biology. Elementary and middle school teachers focus on using inquiry-based science to help students develop better reading, writing, and math skills and meet state science standards.
But far more than a summer getaway, the workshops serve as the gateway to the Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers (CIBT)—an innovative and sustained program that supports teachers long after the summer workshops have concluded.
“The strength of this program is that it’s not just a one-time event. Once teachers participate, they become CIBT alumni and our support and interaction continue,” says Jeff Doyle, professor of plant biology. “We have alumni return to campus events, and we have off-campus outreach events.”
At the end of the workshops, teachers can check out equipment such as DNA and protein gel electrophoresis rigs, PCR machines, and microscopes from a CIBT lending library. That library is linked to an extensive catalog of laboratory exercises that is supported by Cornell staff available for phone and e-mail consultation, Doyle says. Many alumni teachers also participate in a listserv to share their ideas.
“One of the most gratifying aspects of the program is the inspiration the teachers get from being on a research campus with their peers,” says Doyle. “Those in rural counties can be isolated from other biology teachers. This gives them important support.”
These aspects of the program will continue with Cornell’s new grant from HHMI. The school also intends to strengthen its year-round support with new partnerships between CIBT classrooms and Cornell undergraduates. The undergraduate students will serve as mentors for K–12 students, as well as make school visits and teach CIBT activities.