Interns report on science experiences 2 programs for teachers, students collaborate

September 13, 1998|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

The what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation talks at Towson University yesterday were not of the usual beach-and-boardwalk variety.

Try "Effects of Ailanthus Altissima on Soil Respiration." Or "Effects of Interleukin-1 Receptor Antagonist in a Rabbit Model of Diarrheal Disease Due to Shiga-toxin Producing Escherichia coli."

The speakers were elementary and middle school teachers and teachers-to-be who had participated in a summer-intern program designed to give them experience in the sciences. Yesterday was report day.

"It's essential that your students learn logical thinking and the scientific method," said Ann Williams, a veteran middle school teacher from Calvert County, touting the benefits of bringing the laboratory practices she learned into her classroom.

For Williams, who worked at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory on Solomons Island, the summer experience is transferable to her classroom -- she designed an experiment for her eighth-grade students.

It is not as clear for her co-worker at the lab, Kristina Clark, a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park who is student-teaching third-graders. Williams and Clark studied the survival rate of tiny invertebrates in water samples taken from various spots around Solomons Island.

"I am determined to make learning more exciting and relevant for my students by relating it to real-life events," Clark said.

Williams and Clark were paired as the state's two summer-intern programs to improve science teaching became partners.

Since 1992, the University of Maryland Graduate Fellowship program -- originally sponsored by Martin Marietta Corp. -- has sent about 130 elementary and middle school teachers on summer scientific internships.

A similar program for students training to be teachers, the Maryland Collaborative for Teacher Preparation, which also involves other training and curriculum development, has been underwritten by the National Science Foundation since 1993. It has sent 77 students on summer projects during the past three years.

The National Science Foundation grant -- which has given the collaborative project $6 million -- is ending, to be replaced by one that will evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

But Kate Denniston, director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at Towson University, said she has gathered enough money from several sources -- including the institutions that have hosted interns -- to keep the collaborative program going.

The day at Towson University was filled with polished reports on the summer's efforts. The students received a stipend of $2,000, and the teachers received $4,000. Where practical, they were teamed so they could learn from each other.

Denniston looked on with pride as Lisa Marini, a junior at Towson, overcame her slides being backward to deliver her report on the Interleukin-1 Receptor Antagonist.

"She was one of my students," Denniston said after Marini concluded her report about her summer work experimenting on rabbits' intestines at the Baltimoreveterans hospital in Baltimore. Marini said she learned that science and math are intertwined in the real world and should be in the classroom.

"I got involved in this when my kids got to middle-school age," said Denniston, a molecular virologist who taught biology at Towson University for 13 years. "We had done experiments together when they were growing up, and they were always excited about science. That all disappeared when they hit middle school."

Denniston said a teacher lecturing to a class -- what she called the "information transfer method" of teaching -- turns students from science. The summer internships are designed to remind the teachers that science is a creative and exciting undertaking.

As middle school teacher Williams said in her report, "My summer lab work makes it clear again that doing science is much more meaningful than reading about it."

Pub Date: 9/13/98

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