SEATTLE — July 6, 2001 — More than two dozen science teachers from across the state — as well as two of southeast Asia's best and brightest science educators — will spend part of their summer vacation working beside scientists in research laboratories at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and several other partner sites throughout Seattle.
Now in its 10th year, the Hutchinson Center's Science Education Partnership (SEP) program, to be held from July 9 to 25, will host middle-school and high-school teachers from nearly 20 communities throughout Washington, in addition to two who will visit from Singapore. This is the first time the award-winning teaching mentorship program has been offered to teachers outside the United States, according to Wendy Law, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Hutchinson Center's Basic Sciences Division who was instrumental in helping the program go international.
"I recently was talking to a university professor from Singapore and he said that their students are the best memorizers in the world, but when they have to think outside the box, they don't know how to do that very well," Law said. "Our goal is to give their teachers new tools to help their students become more creative problem-solvers — to think outside the box."
High school biology teachers Tang Ying Leng and Loh Sing Huay are among 40 educators being sent to the United States this summer by the Singapore Ministry of Education to observe Western methods of teaching science. In addition to the Hutchinson Center, other hosting institutions include the University of Washington, Johns Hopkins University, The Scripps Research Institute, Cold Spring Harbor and Vanderbilt University, among others.
The Singaporean government has been working for the past 10 years on a major economic reform to turn Singapore into the high-tech hub of southeast Asia. Part of this reform involves several "pillars" of education reform, according to SEP director Nancy Hutchison, Ph.D.
"The fourth and final pillar is life-science education. This is where we hope to come in and demonstrate the strength of professional learning communities such as the Science Education Partnership, which bring scientists and teachers together," Hutchinson said.
Programs such as SEP play an important part in nurturing the next generation of young scientists, according to a written statement provided by the Singapore Ministry of Education.
"The one-to-one mentorship scheme with scientists, the hands-on experimentation, resource development and the opportunity to interact with fellow science educators from Washington state will be relevant and valuable to our teacher participants," it read.
Working in labs at the Hutchinson Center, the University of Washington, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and the corporate biotechnology firms Immunex Corp. and ZymoGenetics Inc., this summer's crop of teachers will update and hone their lab techniques and teaching skills in subjects ranging from genetics to molecular biology.
Since the Science Education Partnership began, 215 teachers have participated and the program has touched more than 100,000 students throughout the state, said program director Hutchison.
"Teaching science is like teaching a foreign language. By participating in the Science Education Partnership, teachers explore the whole country; they get immersed. After the two weeks are up, they have begun to think like the 'locals' and see how the research culture really works," she said. "As a result, their students gain a better understanding of what science really is and how it influences their daily life."
While the SEP, receives direct financial support from Fred Hutchinson, the program since 1994 has received major funding through a five-year grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, or HHMI. The SEP program also has received financial support from the Discuren Charitable Foundation, Washington Mutual Foundation and Wells Fargo.
The teachers will spend about half of their time working one-on-one with a mentor in a research laboratory on projects tailored to their interests. Lab work over the past several years has focused on such topics as protein structure, DNA sequencing, oncogenes, yeast genetics and fruit-fly development. This mentorship often leads to lasting partnerships that extend beyond the summer session to include classroom visits by scientists during the school year.
"Many of our mentors have a sense of wanting to give something back to the community; this is a great chance for them to do that," Hutchison said. The program also gives the scientists a chance to practice their own communication and teaching skills.
The other half of the educators' time will be spent in The Teaching Laboratory at the Hutchinson Center, where they will work as a group to brainstorm better ways to use scientific techniques in the classroom and develop curricula for the coming school year.
Key to their planning is access to the SEP's science-kit loan program, which is available on an ongoing basis to all teachers who participate in the year-long program. The kits, assembled and maintained at the Hutch, contain all the equipment necessary for experiments in such areas as DNA gel electrophoresis, bacterial transformation and fruit-fly genetics.
Last year, more than 13,000 students used SEP kits in their science classes.
"We send out the real thing; these are not kids' toys," Hutchison says. The kits, costing up to $9,000 each, are funded through support by various Hutchinson Center guilds. They come in bright green crates that overflow with dozens of supplies that range from the exotic (microcentrifuges) to the mundane (plastic wrap, meat tenderizer, dishwasher detergent).
The SEP also provides teachers with:
- Surplus lab supplies that have been donated by scientists from throughout the community
- A resource library from which to borrow the latest teaching tools, from textbooks to videodiscs
- A $500 stipend and graduate-level credit through the University of Washington Department of Genetics
"Another benefit of the Science Education Partnership, perhaps less tangible but equally important, is the connection teachers make with scientists and their teaching colleagues," Hutchison said. "It is a real learning community."
But perhaps most important, the program encourages teachers — many of whom haven't been in a laboratory since college — to sharpen their critical thinking, questioning and problem-solving skills. In short: to think outside the box.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please call Kristen Woodward in Hutchinson Center Media Relations, (206) 667-5095. Digital photos of teachers can be arranged upon request by through Caren Brinkema of the Science Education Partnership, (206) 667-4639 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
2001 Science Education Partnership Participants
Anacortes Middle School
Battle Ground High School
Eastside Catholic High School
Edmonds-Woodway High School
T.J. Murphy High School
Issaquah High School
Lakewood High School
South Whidbey High School
Lynnwood High School
Meadowdale High School
Monroe High School
Skagit Valley College
Two Rivers School
Quincy High School
Hazen High School
Northwood Junior High
Lakeside High School
Roosevelt High School
Ballard High School
Franklin High School
Shorewood High School
Evergreen High School
St. Therese School
Shorewood High School
Franklin High School
Roosevelt High School
Chung Cheng High, Singapore
Tang Ying Leng
Victoria School, Singapore
Loh Sing Huay
Liberty High School
Sumner High School
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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home of three Nobel laureates, is an independent, nonprofit research institution dedicated to the development and advancement of biomedical technology to eliminate cancer and other potentially fatal diseases. Recognized internationally for its pioneering work in bone-marrow transplantation, the center's four scientific divisions collaborate to form a unique environment for conducting basic and applied science. Fred Hutchinson, in collaboration with its clinical and research partners, UW Medicine and Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Pacific Northwest and is one of 40 nationwide. For more information, visit the center's website at www.fhcrc.org.