Several leading biomedical research institutions are proving that researchers and teachers working together can make science come alive for precollege students.
The world of a grade school or high school science teacher—complete with plant experiments and dissections of frogs—may seem far removed from that of a scientist. But several leading biomedical research institutions are proving that researchers and teachers working together can make science come alive for precollege students.
Take the education program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Each year 25 middle and high school teachers from all over the state of Washington gather there for hands-on work in scientific laboratories. In the labs they learn not only about the latest scientific methods, but also about subjects ranging from the genetics of malaria to the structures of proteins.
Since the program started in 1991, 200 teachers have gone through the training. Each teacher is paired with a scientist-mentor. The scientists help the teachers master tasks such as purifying DNA and cutting it with restriction enzymes. They also work side-by-side on research projects.
The teachers then take their new knowledge back to their classrooms, along with custom-made kits to help teach their students about biomedical research. The kits provide all the materials for procedures such as electrophoresis, in which scientists separate pieces of DNA by size, or for purifying DNA, using household items such as salt, meat tenderizer, dishwasher detergent, alcohol and a blender.
"We're not trying to turn teachers into research scientists," says Nancy Hutchison, program director of the Center's Science Education Partnership. "But it makes no sense for teachers to be teaching science without experience in the laboratory."
With support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, other research institutions also are sharing their scientists and resources with science teachers. Some of these include:
• Baylor College of Medicine , where scientists partner with elementary school teachers from the Houston Independent School District to form leadership teams to guide science education reform in the city's schools.
• Bridges, a four-year program of the University of California, San Francisco , serving 125 teachers and 7,000 students in the San Francisco Unified School District, which increases teachers' knowledge of the life sciences and scientific methods.
• The University of Wisconsin Medical School, which provides stipends to link precollege teachers and students with junior scientists in training programs, including hands-on summer projects in university research laboratories and ongoing contact throughout the academic year.