Whether fighting for funds for supplies and equipment or trying to find time to learn about scientific advances, high school science teachers face numerous challenges as they struggle to make science compelling and exciting for their students.
For the past 20 years, Princeton University—with support from HHMI— has offered science teachers a lifeline in the form of two-week summer workshops that help them keep current on the latest science and polish their teaching techniques. The more than 500 teachers who have participated in the workshops since the program’s inception have shared their experiences with thousands of students. The program’s current emphasis is on training teachers to show their students how to do scientific research.
“Everybody gets more excited about science when they actually do science,” says Fred Hughson, program director for Princeton’s HHMI grant. “Our goal is to give students and high school teachers direct experience with scientific research and discovery. That’s the best way to hook ‘em.”
The new $1.5 million grant from HHMI enables Princeton to extend its outreach efforts, which include on-campus talks that workshop alumni and their students attend, a science expo for middle school teachers and their classes, and creation of satellite learning centers in underserved urban and rural communities.
The grant also will enable Princeton to develop new lab modules for the teachers to use in their high school classrooms. This summer, the teachers will become scientists, as they experiment with different lab modules to determine which is the best fit for their classroom. One module under development involves experimenting with DNA plasmids showing off a rainbow of fluorescent proteins, a technique developed by HHMI investigator and Nobel laureate Roger Tsien and used in research labs worldwide to visualize proteins in action.
To bring these techniques into the classroom, teachers need supplies and equipment. To that end, the grant will enable Princeton to loan specialized equipment—such as PCR thermocyclers and gel electrophoresis kits—and reagents that teachers can use when they return to their classrooms, reinvigorated and inspired.