It is almost impossible to watch the evening news or read a paper without bumping into a science story, from sheep cloning to DNA fingerprinting. More than ever before, science -- especially genetics -- is jumping from the ivory tower into everyday life.
To help tomorrow's adults better understand the science behind today's headlines, some two dozen middle-school and high-school science teachers from across the state 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.
From July 12 to 28, teachers from nearly 20 communities --from Enumclaw to Issaquah -- will participate in this year's Science Education Partnership, a grant-funded mentorship program for science teachers established in 1991 and coordinated by the Hutchinson Center's Basic Sciences Division.
Working in labs at the Hutchinson Center, the University of Washington and the corporate biotechnology firms Immunex Corp. and ZymoGenetics Inc., the 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, some 200 teachers have participated and more than 100,000 students throughout the state have been touched by the program, says its director, Dr. Nancy 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 culture really works," she says. "As a result, their students gain a better understanding of what science really is and how it influences their daily life."
While the Science Education Partnership, or SEP, receives direct financial support from the Hutchinson Center, the program since 1994 has received major funding through a five-year grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, or HHMI.
On July 15, the HHMI will award a second round of funding to the SEP program through a four-year, $475,000 Precollege Science Education Grant. While more than 200 biomedical research institutions were invited to compete for such funding this year, the Hutchinson Center was among 35 institutions nationwide selected to receive such support. For more information, see www.hhmi.org/. 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 says. 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 summer session. 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 organizations such as the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. 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 Science Education Partnership 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; and
- a $500 stipend and graduate-level credit through the University of Washington Department of Genetics.
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 like scientists.
"The class changed how I taught. My teaching became much more about encouraging my students to think scientifically than about having them get the 'right' answer," says Connie Kelly, a Seattle high school chemistry teacher who attended the program in 1992. "If they messed up on a lab, oh well. A real scientist just does it over again. My students now have a chance to see how science really works."
The SEP program also has received financial support from the Discuren Charitable Foundation, Washington Mutual Foundation and Wells Fargo.
To arrange an interview with SEP director Dr. Nancy Hutchison, a participating teacher or mentor, please call Kristen Woodward at the Hutchinson Center, (206) 667-5095.
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The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center 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. One of 35 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, it is the only one in the Northwest. For more information, visit the Center' s Web site at <www.fhcrc.org>
CONTACT: Kristen Woodward
EMARGOED FOR RELEASE
Until July 15, 1999