Middle school science teachers hit WFU chemistry lab this summer
June 26, 2007
While most middle school students enjoy a summer break, some of their science teachers will be learning the science behind biotechnology in a chemistry lab at Wake Forest University.
Fifteen sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade science teachers from the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will spend July 9 to 19 participating in a workshop taught by Rebecca Alexander, associate professor of chemistry at Wake Forest. This is her third year offering teachers the summer workshop.
Participants get more than the continuing education credits all educators are required to maintain. During the two-week workshop, the teachers update their scientific knowledge by discussing topical issues such as plastics and recycling, the forensic science seen on popular TV shows like CSI and even the ethics of biologically engineered foods and stem cell research. In the laboratory, the teachers learn hands-on activities they can replicate in their own classes such as creating models of cells by sewing fabric patches on pillows or isolating DNA from strawberries using household chemicals and cheesecloth.
"It’s not just refreshing their basic knowledge and it’s not just collecting tools to take back to their classrooms,” Alexander points out. “It’s making them aware of the high-level academic science that Wake Forest researchers are doing.”
The same five-year National Science Foundation grant that funds Alexander’s workshops underwrites her research into how the movement of certain proteins contributes to the chemical reactions in which they participate. Better understanding the protein-making process could lead to drugs that block the growth of disease-causing agents.
Field trips are also part of the curriculum. Participants visit the Piedmont Triad Research Park to see real-life examples of cutting-edge biotechnology at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the biopharmaceutical company Targacept.
Alexander estimates that a quarter of those who typically attend her workshops have no professional training in teaching middle school science. That’s because teacher shortages have fueled rising numbers of lateral-entry instructors, and teachers are increasingly expected to handle multiple subject areas.
For her part, Alexander appreciates the benefits that come from adjusting her instruction to a different audience.
"I think it’s helped my teaching ability,” she says. “Plus, I admire public school teachers who have to teach all day long.”