Molecular Medicine in Action welcomes state’s top science teachers to IU School of Medicine
By Kevin Fryling
Indiana University School of Medicine scientists at the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research are used to helping improve children’s physical health through their work that results in medical breakthroughs for the young. But a dedicated group of physician-researchers at the center is also working to improve the educational health of the Hoosier kids through an outreach program that aims to get teachers – and their students – excited about science.
Molecular Medicine in Action for Teaching Professionals will host 33 high school science teachers from across the state from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, in the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research in the Research 4 Building. The program, which launched four years ago, grew out of an earlier program that welcomes high school student to campus to hear from Wells Center faculty and engage in hands-on laboratory learning.
“Our original program targeted students only, but we’ve always had teacher chaperones and advisors, and a lot of the teachers started telling us they would really like to participate themselves,” said Mark R. Kelley, Ph.D., Betty and Earl Herr Professor in Pediatric Oncology Research and associate director of the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research, who founded the teacher's program. “The teacher education component really sprang from the teachers wanting to get involved after seeing what their students were doing.”
The program for teaching professions, established in 2009, was made possible by support from the Lilly Endowment, which provided a $1 million endowment to the program in 2006. Additional support comes from the Riley Children’s Foundation, the Department of Pediatrics and the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research.
Teachers travel from “South Bend to Evansville” to participate, Dr. Kelley said. This year’s cohort includes science teachers from Kokomo High School; Martinsville High School; McCutcheon High School in Lafayette; Mississinewa High School in Gas City, Ind.; Muncie Southside High School; Northside High School in Fort Wayne; and Warren Central High School in Indianapolis. Participation in the program in free, except for travel costs.
The daylong event includes lectures by IU school of Medicine faculty and hands-on laboratory learning. These include the chance to practice actual techniques employed by medical researchers, including “RNA silencing,” a method to “knock out” a specific protein in a cell, as well as sessions focusing on blood vessel development (angiogenesis) and the role of zebrafish in diabetes research.
“It’s a different side of the street looking at the same activities the students do in their program,” Dr. Kelley said. “The students' program is similar, but more laboratory rotations are involved. The teachers’ rotations are elongated as they like to spend more time thinking about how they can incorporate our lectures and activities into their classroom teaching.”
Kathryn Holmstrom, a biology teacher at Cloverdale High School in Cloverdale, Ind., said that Molecular Medicine in Action provides a valuable opportunity to learn some new skills – and gain some knowledge – that she and her colleagues can bring back to the classroom, and hopefully inspire their students to not only continue with their science studies but to consider a career in the scientific field.
”The ability to show students where what they’re learning is going – that research is solving real-world problems – they don't get that from a textbook,” Holmstrom said. “When a teacher can come back and say they got to practice a technique that could help cure diabetes, it has an effect. It’s more meaningful to students, especially when you can show them how close they are to IU's medical research system. It makes them realize they've got a treasure right here in Indiana that they can be a part of.”
Holmstrom, who will participate in the program a second time on Saturday, has also served as a teacher chaperone in March with the spring student program, which included two top science students from Cloverdale. She also knows a student participant from Crawford County who has gone on to become a biochemist.
"Our primary motivation creating this program was the need to increase high-quality science teaching in Indiana," added Dr. Kelley, who also serves as a professor of pediatrics and biochemistry and molecular biology at the IU School of Medicine. "We want to reverse the ‘brain drain’ in Indiana; too many talented young people are going out of the state and not coming back. Our state’s science teachers are at the point of the spear of encouraging students to get excited about science."
The program is completely staffed by faculty, staff, students and lab technicians in the Wells Center, he said, joking that they’ve never had any trouble getting the volunteers to donate a Saturday.
"We want to help our teachers get kids in Indiana excited about what’s going in the state in the fields of science, biology and medicine." Dr. Kelley said. "We’ve been doing this for nearly 15 years because we simply love science — and want to pass that love along to the next generation.”
Story photo: Ryan Anderson, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and a member of the diabetes research group at the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research, works with local high school teachers in the lab.