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Twelve Ready Educators

The newest component of TSRI’s educational outreach is the Science Partnership Scholars Program. Each year since its inception in 1999, 12 middle and high school science teachers from throughout San Diego County are selected to attend the six-week program, comprised of a Saturday orientation and Tuesday after-school sessions on the TSRI campus. Under the supervision of Professor Elizabeth Getzoff, a group of graduate students has developed a curriculum which includes hands-on experiments that teachers can use in their classrooms, as well as presentations on state-of-the-art research topics and techniques.

The day I visit the Scholars Program, Gerald Joyce, professor in the Department of Molecular Biology, is well into an engaging presentation on Darwinian evolution at the molecular level. Twelve middle and high school teachers sit in various poses around a large conference table scattered with briefcases, coffee cups, cookie remnants, and water bottles. With eyes fixed on Dr. Joyce, the teachers are attentive and alert—the perfect pupils.

"One of the things I would like to see conveyed to students," he tells them, "is that evolutionary changes are purely chemical. There’s nothing controversial in that itself."

Later, after Dr. Joyce has left and graduate student Eugene Wu has taken over, the discussion veers into Evolution vs. Creation territory, and how these teachers deal with the topic in their classrooms. Some parents get upset if the theory of evolution is presented to their children, notes one teacher. Sarah Allen Peddie, biology teacher at Kearny High School, shares her recent approach that involves setting up a mock trial and assigning half the class to argue Evolution and the other, Creation. The important thing to convey, Eugene stresses, is that science doesn't prove things; the work of science is to put forth hypotheses, and from there to amass data that either discounts or supports them.

It is now 6 PM and well past the tutorial’s scheduled end. By way of closing, Eugene comments: "You are on the front lines of this issue and I admire you for that. You are the most important scientists in this regard." He adds that he had planned to discuss how microbes reproduce clonally, but since they’ve run overtime, he can give them notes instead. The teachers protest— "Go on, go on."

I walk to the parking lot with Joanne Mons Johnson, who teaches advanced placement (AP) biology, marine science, and algebra at Kearny High. I ask her what it’s like to be taught by graduate students. "They have a freshness and a generosity of spirit, " Joanne tells me. "They have a greater knowledge than we do, but share it in a way that really honors us."

Cultivating the Garden

The common thread that ties together TSRI’s Spring Enrichment Tutorials and Science Partnership Scholars Program is the aim to bridge the gap between the research that goes on in modern laboratories and the curriculum presented in high school science classrooms. The end goals are to provide students with a relevant education on some issues in science that will affect their lives, and to relay a sense of the vibrancy and excitement of research at the cutting-edge of biology and chemistry.

Spring is upon us at TSRI. Fresh faces, budding scientists, ripening pursuits.


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Maria Mendez (left), science teacher at Wilson Middle School, and Beth Stroupe, TSRI graduate student and Scholars Program coordinator, look at protein structures using the RalMol program.