The University of Missouri-Columbia is bringing state-of-the-art equipment to teachers who might not otherwise have such exposure.
Rural science teachers are the focus of a summer workshop organized by the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Elaine Dalton, for example, is a high school science teacher in tiny Lexington, Missouri, where she has little time, money or lab equipment. She and other teachers spent several weeks at the university's workshop this past summer experimenting with state-of-the-art equipment and creating high-tech lesson plans. "During the school year, the teachers each get to borrow the equipment for two weeks.
"My students were so excited to use the equipment last year," said Dalton, who first attended the summer workshop in 1995. "That's one reason I came back this year." In Dalton's Lexington High School chemistry class, students used a high-powered scanning tunneling microscope to analyze everything from graphite and gold to the dimes in their pockets. Suddenly, kids who thought lab work was bland and obscure began asking questions and sticking around after the bell rang, according to Dalton.
Other teachers concur that their studentswho mostly attend small, rural schoolshave no other opportunities to use high-powered lab equipment. "We were lucky at my previous school if we could roll balls on an incline and measure velocity," joked Idelle Peterson, who recently moved to Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis County.
John David, associate professor and director of the division of biological sciences at the university, directs the program, which he says is "in society's best interest and in our own interest as well. We're going to see these students later. If they're better prepared, we can do more with them. We also have an obligation to teaching that goes beyond our own students."
This past summer's session, called "Genes and Identity," covered recent developments in genetics, from the use of DNA fingerprinting to the discovery of genes involved in skin cancer, obesity or aging. Many of the participants were repeat visitors from the previous summer's program, which focused on gel electrophoresis, a technique used to distinguish DNA molecules.
"Following last summer's program, I had a lot of students say, 'It's the first year I've enjoyed science,'" said Janette Williams, a teacher at Raytown South High School, outside Kansas City. This year, Williams's students will get a chance to "fingerprint" their own DNA. They will use pipettes, chemicals and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) kits from the university to analyze DNA samples from their saliva.
Students are lining up to do this kind of experiment at Gallatin RV School, a rural school with an enrollment of 200. "I used to have 10 or 15 students in my advanced biology class," said teacher Dennis Steigerwalt. "Now I have 45 kids signed up." Steigerwalt has participated in several of the summer research programs, which the university created through its two undergraduate science education grants totaling $2.3 million from the Institute. In 1993, for example, he conducted research on DNA sequencing, using mice at the university.