Science teachers join labs for summer at Fred Hutchinson

SEATTLE — July 8, 2008 — About 30 science teachers from Washington — plus two from Singapore and one from Australia — are spending part of their vacation at "summer school," working beside scientists in research laboratories at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and several other partner sites throughout Seattle. The summer workshop, which runs July 14-30, will host teachers from nearly 20 communities throughout the state and abroad.

"Our goal is for teachers to bring back what they learn over the summer to help jump-start their students' knowledge of bioscience and research and perhaps kindle their interest in jobs or careers in science," said Nancy Hutchison, Ph.D., director of the Hutchinson Center's Science Education Partnership, or SEP, program, now in its 18th year.

Working in labs at the Hutchinson Center and partnering local academic-research institutions and biotechnology firms, this year's cadre of teachers will update and hone their lab techniques and teaching strategies in life sciences, particularly genetics and molecular biology.

"Teaching science is like teaching a foreign language," Hutchison said. "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 lives."

Participating institutions this year, in addition to the Hutchinson Center, include the corporate biotechnology firm ZymoGenetics, as well as Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute, the University of Washington Genome Sciences Department and the joint UW/Hutchinson Center Molecular and Cellular Biology, or MCB, doctoral-research program.

After a jumpstart session to learn laboratory basics, the teachers will spend about half of their time working one-on-one with a scientist-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 improve their own communication and teaching skills by learning from the teachers.

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 with Lead Teachers — master teachers experienced with the SEP workshops — focusing on effective ways to use scientific techniques in the classroom and refining 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 yearlong program. The kits, assembled and maintained at the Hutchinson Center, contain all the equipment necessary for experiments in such areas as DNA gel electrophoresis, bacterial transformation and fruit-fly genetics.

"Each new group of teachers coming into SEP each year directly influences more than 3,000 students annually," said SEP director Hutchison. Combined with ongoing participants' use, last year more than 130 teachers and 14,000 Washington students worked with SEP kits in their science classes.

"We send out the real thing; these are not kids' toys," Hutchison says. The kits, costing up to $10,000 each, come in bright green crates filled with supplies that range from the exotic (microcentrifuges) to the mundane (plastic wrap, meat tenderizer, dishwasher detergent).

      SEP also provides teachers with:

  • surplus lab supplies that have been donated by labs from throughout the research community;
  • a resource library from which to borrow the latest teaching tools, from textbooks to DVDs; and
  • a $500 stipend and graduate-level credit through the University of Washington.

"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 teach outside the box.

Since the Science Education Partnership began in 1991, 368 teachers have participated and the program has touched the lives of more than 150,000 students. SEP receives direct financial support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Editor's note:
For more information or to arrange an interview or lab visit, please call Kristen Woodward, (206) 667-5095. Digital photos of most teachers are available upon request. SEP's Webpage.

Media Contact
Kristin Woodward
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
(206) 667-5095

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