Science teachers spend their summer vacation in Iowa State research labs

AMES, Iowa - Forget about swimsuits and shades. The summer attire for these science teachers is strictly lab coats and safety goggles.

Rather than idling away summer at the beach, 10 middle and high school teachers are spending seven weeks in research laboratories at Iowa State University.

Several of the teachers had never before set foot in a research laboratory. Now they are conducting molecular biotechnology and plant genomics experiments alongside faculty mentors.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the unique Iowa State program is in its second year. The intent is to introduce teachers to the value of scientific inquiry so they can inspire students to learn more about science and a scientific career path, said Adah Leshem-Ackerman, who coordinates the program at Iowa State.

"Unfortunately, science isn't a big attraction in high school. Those that choose biology as an undergraduate major often go into health professions, rather than careers in science," she said.

"If we can inspire the teachers with the wonders of 'doing science' and help them develop a science of inquiry in their classrooms, then maybe more kids will be hooked on science," she said.

"We're touching thousands of students through these 10 teachers," she added.

Ames High School teacher Craig Walter is one of the teachers doing a research internship. He hopes to engage his biology honors students this fall in the research he's working on with ISU mentor Coralie Lashbrook. Lashbrook, assistant professor of horticulture, studies how plants control or regulate the dropping of leaves and flowers.

"I'm working on a project to screen several naturally occurring varieties of Arabidopsis to determine if any may be useful to her research," Walter explained. The Arabidopsis plant is widely used as a model system in research.

"By continuing to work with Dr. Lashbrook in the coming year, I can give my students a chance to develop scientific inquiry skills like designing and executing experiments, collecting and analyzing data and communicating conclusions that are well supported by evidence," Walter said.

"Research as a career is definitely an option for many of my students. The scientific thinking skills they're learning in high school will be applicable," Walter said. "I'll encourage those who are interested to participate in an internship program. I can assure them that they'll learn quite a bit about research and about themselves."

In addition to Walter, the teachers participating in the summer research internship program are Steve Bacon and Brian Robison, Southeast Polk Junior High School, Runnells; Joel Bourque, Estes Park, Colo.; Chris Creason, Perry High School, Perry; Matt Edgar, Ballard Community High School, Huxley; Stephanie Haila, Gilbert Junior High School, Gilbert; Kathleen Hudson, Maine; Terri Pond, Valley High School, West Des Moines; and Steve Snyder, Whiting High School, Whiting.