Teacher training programs give scientists new understanding and respect for their precollege colleagues.
Scientists who help train biology teachers in summer programs like the one in Princeton often volunteer out of a sense of professional responsibility, but they leave with quite a different perspective.
"Working with these teachers has completely changed the way I teach my own classes," said Donald Cronkite, a biology professor who coordinates an HHMI-funded outreach program at Hope College in Michigan, and has served for several summers as academic dean of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. "There are some awfully good high school teachers out there."
Interacting with the teachers has led Cronkite to reduce his own use of lectures and expand the opportunities for students to carry out experiments. "You may actually believe that if you stand in front of people for 50 minutes and tell them what you know, they'll learn it," Cronkite said. "That's an illusion that you have to divest yourself of."
Charles Drewes, a neurobiologist at Iowa State University, spent a week with the teachers this past summer, sharing ideas for teaching everything from the neural control of movement to patterns of worm regeneration. Back home, he runs similar workshops for teachers through a grant from HHMI's undergraduate science education program.
"It's common for faculty members at universities to complain about the quality of incoming students," Drewes said. "Instead of just complaining about the situation, it's important for those of us who are working scientists to get involved as much as possible in helping in the professional development of teachers."
Like Cronkite, Drewes said he was stimulated by working with teachers who have devised some remarkable approaches for teaching large numbers of students every day with minimal resources. He also noted how eager workshop participants are to learn about subjects they may never have studied in depth but are nonetheless asked to teach. "Many of the teacher training programs load up on education classes but don't provide enough of the hard-core science," he said.
Cronkite and Drewes are among the many scientists who come away from teacher training programs with new understanding and respect for their precollege colleagues.
Dale Koepp, who directs the Woodrow Wilson program, said "The faculty members who come here invariably say it's as much a growth experience for them as it is for the teachers."