“In Worcester and across the region, teachers and administrators experience significant demands on their time,” said Sandra Mayrand, MBA, director of UMass Medical School’s Regional Science Resource Center (RSRC). “Professional development that is ongoing, focused on the practice of teaching and centered on the classroom is what we aim to provide.” Science curricula, characterized by extensive materials and detailed lesson plans, can be particularly intimidating for teachers, so RSRC professional development courses allow them to explore the units before presenting them to students.
The RSRC houses a fully equipped laboratory where teachers and their students can “do science” in an applied way; in some cases, this will be their only opportunity for hands-on science because of the limited resources at their own schools. Lab experiments at the RSRC cover a range of topics—some of the most popular include isolating DNA in an onion, solving a crime using DNA fingerprinting and using gel electrophoresis to discover whether a subject is carrying the gene for cystic fibrosis. The lab also offers Advanced Placement molecular biology experiments.
The Regional Science Resource Center (RSRC) at UMass Medical School and its education, business and non-profit partners help 138 state school districts enhance K-12 math and science education.
More than a third of these districts use three of the five RSRC programs—teacher networks, professional development, math and science library, student lab and Science To Go!—with networks and professional development the most popular.
Since 2004, 84 teachers have been trained to incorporate the scientific inquiry process into their existing curricula through a course developed and supported by the RSRC and its partners.
Teachers pass along their enhanced scientific knowledge to their students—40 percent of the 2007 Massachusetts Middle School Science and Engineering Fair top finishers came from schools served by the RSRC.
For students and teachers alike, science comes to life as they develop basic biotechnology skills and become familiar with the research process. “The Science Resource Center has allowed my students to do some molecular genetics labs which otherwise can’t be completed because of lack of funding for equipment and chemicals,” said Tahanto Regional High School teacher Alice Apostolou.
Another RSRC offering is Science To Go!, which saves money for school districts and the time of teachers and curriculum coordinators. By purchasing materials in bulk and prepackaging them for classroom use, Science To Go! helps school districts easily and successfully use standards-based science materials developed by the National Science Foundation. Science To Go! also replenishes consumable materials that elementary teachers use in their classroom to explore basic scientific concepts with younger students.
In February 2008, the RSRC received news of funding that will advance its teacher development efforts—the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education awarded it $500,000 from the Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) Pipeline Fund, designed to increase student interest and teacher preparation in STEM subjects. The Medical School will lead development of a communications plan to raise awareness of STEM careers among middle school teachers, students, parents and guidance counselors in Central Massachusetts. Partners include the Colleges of Worcester Consortium, EcoTarium, Fitchburg State College, Mount Wachusett Community College, Quinsigamond Community College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and school districts in Fitchburg, Lunenberg and Worcester.
Regional Science Resource Center
This information originally appeared in Partners In Service, which was published by UMMS in 2008. PDF available.