Science Teachers Become Students for a Day

By Mika Ono and Jennifer O'Sullivan

Eighty-seven middle and high school teachers learned about trends in research and the scientific marketplace this week in a professional development seminar at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI).

The seminar, which is an annual event co-sponsored by TSRI's Science Outreach Program and San Diego City Schools' Partnerships in Education, included a keynote address by Alan Bersin, the superintendent of public education of the San Diego Unified School District.

Bersin emphasized the value of science education in today's uncertain world. "Let's give every child the opportunity to understand so that when something like this anthrax terror strikes at home we have children who can start to analyze what's happening, not people who panic in the face of this attack," he said. "That's what a scientific perspective will give to our children—the ability to think critically about the world they are living in..." Also speaking at the seminar were Douglas Bingham, TSRI vice president and general counsel, who covered the "who," "what," "when," "where," and "why" of the institute; Judith Munoz, TSRI vice president of human resources, who spoke on career paths in bioscience; and Kim Bess, science director for the San Diego City Schools, who summarized societal trends and how they should be reflected in education. Nancy Taylor, science director of the San Diego County Office of Education, Frances O'Neill Zimmerman, member of the Board of Education of the San Diego Unified School District, and Robin Goldsmith, vice president of communications also participated.

Teachers at the seminar also learned about other possibilities for career development through TSRI's Science Outreach Program, specifically a six-week session of tutorials in the spring and a summer internship program. For many of the teachers, though, the highlight of the day was TSRI science and scientists.

Professor Don Mosier spoke to the teachers on the "Origin and Spread of the AIDS Virus." Opening the lecture, he recalled how one of his high school science teachers had really taken the course textbook to task, challenging its assumptions and using the opportunity to teach the valuable skill of critical inquiry. He urged the teachers to do the same.

Assistant Professor Floyd Romesberg gave a talk entitled "Genetic Information." During the presentation, Romesberg recalled his personal experiences as a high school student, admitting to a less than spectacular performance in a high school chemistry class. As an undergraduate several years later, when his passion for the subject had been sparked, Romesberg ran into his high school chemistry teacher at the supermarket and told him he was majoring in chemistry. "He gave me this strange look and just started laughing," Romesberg said. Romesberg praised the teachers for taking on the challenge of igniting students' creativity while at the same time teaching fundamentals.

In her lecture on "Collared Necks and Surprises: The Sometimes Convoluted Path to Understanding," Chair of the Department of Cell Biology Sandra Schmid chronicled some of her experiences making scientific discoveries. Schmid emphasized that "science is genderless... and that's something you can teach students."

After lunch, seminar participants toured TSRI laboratories and facilities, which included the Boger lab, the Getzoff lab, the Janda lab, the Kelly lab, the Millar lab, the NMR Facility, the Nicolaou lab, the Sharpless lab, the X-Ray Chrystallography Facility, and the Yates lab.

The teachers were enthusiastic about their day at TSRI.

"[This seminar offers] exciting information," said Maureen Quessenberry, a science teacher at the School for Creative and Performing Arts. "This is my fourth time. It's always different and always a joy. And this time I get to tour a Nobel Prize-winning lab!"

Roxann Hatfield, also a teacher at the San Diego School for Creative and Performing Arts, agreed that the experience was a valuable one. "This is a good way to expand my teaching," she said. "I bring some of the science back to my higher-level kids. I hope some will get turned on to the idea of going into research."




Teachers tour Nobel laureate K. Barry Sharpless's lab as part of a professional development seminar at TSRI. Photo by Jennifer O'Sullivan.