Students who hope to become middle or high school science teachers often have a hard time landing summer research opportunities, which are more likely to go to students planning research careers. Western Michigan University, which has one of the largest teacher-training programs in the nation, thinks this is cause for concern. And so, with the school's first HHMI grant, students pursuing science education will now have more opportunities to participate in cutting-edge research. "We want them to get the content knowledge that they need, but we also want to train them as practitioners, so that they see themselves as part of the science community," says Susan Stapleton, the school's HHMI program director.
Western Michigan will offer 15 research internships for education students the summer before their junior year in areas ranging from neurobiology to nuclear physics. Students will work closely with faculty mentors and get firsthand experience with the skills they'll eventually be teaching their students, from navigating primary literature to generating hypotheses and gathering data. "When teachers have enthusiasm not only for the knowledge of science but also for the practice of science, they'll be able to instill that in their students," says Stapleton.
The internships, which include weekly group seminars, will give the aspiring teachers a starting point for thinking about how to bring the excitement of research into classrooms. Over the long term, Stapleton hopes the students will maintain relationships with their research mentors and receive guidance on how to keep their lesson plans up to speed with the latest scientific ideas and methodologies.
Recognizing teachers as members of the scientific community starts by treating them as colleagues in the lab, says Stapleton. Taken back to the classroom, a research experience may lead to innovative teaching and inspired students, which she believes will be successful and measurable outcomes of their HHMI-supported initiative.