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HS teachers take stage at Whitehead seminar

High school teachers from Cambridge, Boston, Arlington, Malden, Plymouth and five other local communities shared everything from "designer genes" to classroom dramas recreating cell-mediated immunity at the final session of the 1994-95 Whitehead Seminar Series for High School Teachers in May.

The seminar series, sponsored in part by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), usually features a lecture by a senior Whitehead or MIT faculty member on a topic at the forefront of biology, followed by a laboratory session (specially designed for conversion to the high school classroom), and then a working dinner with Whitehead postdoctoral fellows and graduate students.

But the final May meeting was different. The teachers took the stage and shared lecture and laboratory strategies with their peers and the young Whitehead scientists who served as their partners throughout the year.

In addition, Dr. Fran Lewitter, a specialist in scientific computing at Whitehead, gave the teachers a tour of the World Wide Web beginning at a special "resources for biology teachers" option on the Whitehead home page (expected to be available outside the Whitehead Institute by mid-summer). With a few clicks of her mouse, Dr. Lewitter led the teachers to genetic databases and a structural database that allows users to select and manipulate molecular models. Questions flew as she rotated a model of the "leucine zipper" on the video screen.


Dr. Lewitter was followed by Kate Dollard, a teacher from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS), who was selected to be one of the first participants in a nationwide educational program called Access Excellence, sponsored by Genentech, Inc., of California. Ms. Dollard explained that Access Excellence offers high school teachers an opportunity to keep in touch with colleagues, scientists and critical sources of new scientific information through an on-line network.

Special features include an activities exchange and monthly seminars on hot topics in biology. Through Access Excellence, Ms. Dollard and her students are collaborating on a water quality research project with high school classes in Montana and Ohio. "In addition to learning how to test river water, my students have learned a great deal about other parts of the country," Ms. Dollard told the Whitehead group. "For example, my Cambridge students were amazed when the students in Bell Fontaine, OH, told them about festivities on Tractor Day."

Ms. Dollard and her colleague Maureen Havern at CRLS also described a one-semester course called "Designer Genes" that they developed to teach students about the revolution in human genetics and its implications for society. The Cambridge teachers shared laboratories created for the course and explained how they incorporated information from the monthly Whitehead teacher program.

Another presenter, Don Bockler, a biology teacher at Arlington High School, used a game to help students understand the origins of antigen-specific immunity. He explained how students take on the roles of T-cells, B-cells and other key players in the immune system, communicating with cytokines (growth factors) that are actually different types of candy. Boston teachers Ed Keane from John D. O'Bryant High School and Marion Sweeney from West Roxbury High School described two very different exercises: an assay for enzymatic activity in plants and a special program designed to teach students about the spread of AIDS. Other presenters included Susan Offner of Milton High School, Kathleen Rusilas of Malden High School, Mary Splaine of CRLS, and Agnes Hayes of Plymouth North High School.

The "Strategy Session: New Tools and Instructional Techniques for the Classroom," was co-hosted by Dr. Melanie Barron, science coordinator of the Cambridge Public Schools, and Denise Lintner, coordinator of the Whitehead Partnership for Science Education. As in past years, the teachers brought a number of guests to the final session, including their principals; colleagues interested in joining the Whitehead Partnership program; Dr. Patrick Murphy, deputy superintendent of the Cambridge Public Schools, and Ann Hamadeh, program director for Citywide Science, representing the superintendent of schools in Boston. In addition to HHMI, other sponsors of the 1994-95 Whitehead Partnership for Science Education included The Millipore Foundation, the Harold Whitworth Pierce Charitable Trust and VWR Scientific, Inc.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 7, 1995.

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