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From Squashing Chromosomes to Spooling DNA: What Some Teachers Will Do On Their Summer Vacation!

Education Partnership draws teachers from across the state

(To find out if there's a teacher from your area participating, please see list attached.)

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 secondary-school science teachers from across the state will be spending part of their summer vacation in various Seattle research laboratories. There, they will update and hone their lab techniques and teaching skills in subjects like genetics and molecular biology.

Starting July 13, middle school and high school teachers from nearly 20 communities ­ from Arlington to Yakima ­ will participate in this year's Science Education Partnership. This intensive two-week mentorship program pairs teachers with scientists from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and several partner sites throughout Seattle, including the University of Washington and the corporate biotechnology firms Immunex Corp. and Zymogenetics Inc.

Since the Science Education Partnership began in 1991, some 150 teachers have participated and more than 90,000 students throughout the state have been touched by the program, says its director, Nancy Hutchison, Ph.D.

"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."

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 11,000 students used SEP kits in their science classes. "We send out the real thing; these are not kids' toys," Hutchison says. The kits come in bright green crates that overflow with dozens of supplies that range from the exotic (microcentrifuges) to the mundane (plastic wrap).

Costing up to $9,000 each, the kits are funded through support by organizations such as the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, which recently donated $80,000 toward the development of a new kit that will help students learn about protein structure.

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 UW 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."

While the SEP program receives direct financial support from the Hutchinson Center, major funding during the last several years has come from a five-year grant by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, as well as grants from the Discuren Charitable Trust, Washington Mutual Bank and Wells Fargo Foundation.

Note: To arrange an interview with SEP director Nancy Hutchison or a participating teacher or mentor, please call Kristen Woodward at (206) 667-5095.

CONTACT: Kristen Lidke Woodward
(206) 667-5095

July 10, 1998

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a world leader in research to prevent, detect and treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.