A Natural Selection: Partnering Teachers and Scientists in the Classroom Laboratory Creates a Dynamic Learning Community

Article excerpt

The high school science laboratory provides a natural environment for students to learn through scientist-teacher partnerships. Scientists represent an excellent resource for teachers and students: They possess specialized knowledge and skills, have access to laboratory equipment and materials, and are immersed in a culture of collaborative scientific investigation. Scientists also act as positive role models as they interact with students in secondary classrooms.

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A dynamic learning community, authentic inquiry, a deeper understanding of the nature of science, and learning about scientific careers are all benefits of scientist-teacher partnerships. This article focuses on the benefits of partnerships while describing how one specific partnership team developed a natural selection laboratory to integrate with a high school biology curriculum.

Everyone benefits

In the Science and Health Education Partnership (SEP) program at the University of California, San Francisco, partnerships are viewed as a two-way collaboration between scientists and K-12 teachers designed to enhance science instruction for all students. Since its founding in 1987, SEP has engaged in forming scientist-teacher partnerships to bring "lasting systemic change in pre-college science education" (Alberts 1993).

Studies of partnership programs demonstrate exciting benefits for all participants. Teachers gain content knowledge and understanding of the nature of science, curricular resources, and increased professional development opportunities. Students' learning of science is enriched and their exposure to role models and scientific careers is enhanced (AIR and WCER 2005). Scientists gain communication and instructional skills, exposure to teaching careers, interest in future outreach activities (AIR and WCER 2005), insight into K-12 education (AIR and WCER 2005; Tanner 2000), and also renew their excitement for science "bench" work (Tanner, Chatman, and Allen 2003).

Scientist-teacher partnerships provide opportunities for students to construct meaning through investigation. Unfortunately, in classrooms today, lab activities are most often isolated from the flow of classroom science instruction (Singer, Hilton, and Schweingruber 2005). Studies indicate that when a lab is not integrated with the rest of a course, students do not necessarily learn concepts and principles (Ogens 1991). By partnering with scientists trained to address conceptual questions through experimentation, teachers can present more effective laboratories to their students.

Through SEP, a successful partnership took place between four biology graduate students from the University of California, San Francisco, and a science teacher from Washington High School, an urban public school in San Francisco. This partnership involved the design and implementation of four interactive lessons for junior and senior advanced biology students.

The team designed laboratories that were integrated with the biology curriculum and focused on gene regulation, mechanisms of evolution, and neurobiology of the visual system. The benefits that partnerships provide for high school laboratory instruction are highlighted in the context of this team's laboratory on evolution.

Activity development

The team's approach to lesson planning illustrates how partnerships can create a learning community for the scientists, teachers, and students involved. When considering the lesson, the teacher first identified "mechanisms of evolution" as one area of his biology curriculum that might be best supported by the participation of the scientists.

After considering a variety of laboratory ideas, the team decided on an activity in which students would experience the effects of natural selection firsthand. The teacher then outlined the key curriculum concepts and desired learning outcomes. Together, the team decided to develop the lesson specifically to address how natural selection acts on variation within a population, incorporating the concepts of mutation, small population effects (genetic drift), and gene flow. …