Research shows the success of a bacterial community depends on its shape.
Passionate teachers create passionate students, said many of the 14 teachers who came to MIT last week for the fourth annual MIT Summer Workshop for High School Science Teachers.
Teachers from more than 10 school districts in Massachusetts attended lectures, discussions and labs each day from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The workshop, which ran from July 11 to 15, centered on the biology and genetics of nematodes, a topic that can be adapted for a variety of uses in a high school curriculum.
Nematodes, or roundworms, are the most numerous multicellular animals on earth, so easy to come by that the teachers all extracted them from soil samples they had brought with them.
In the labs, they studied various mutant strains of nematodes under a microscope and performed genetic experiments.
The teachers were thrilled with the opportunity to use the MIT resources. "We don't always get the opportunity to use such equipment," said Susan Eason, a high school teacher from Sharon. There was a lot to learn very quickly, said Eason, who called the week "intense."
The workshop also gave teachers a chance to network and to make plans to share equipment during the school year.
"There is an energy we all share," said Julie Snyder, a biology teacher at Hudson High School. "It is great to meet people who share that same feeling. If I need an answer I can't find, I have a network of people I can ask."
The teachers also build relationships with the graduate students and professors they work with throughout the week. Those relationships continue far beyond July.
"My students have called some of the MIT students in the past," said Snyder. "They have always been so open to that." Graduate students can give high school students a perspective that is hard for any teacher to provide. "It is encouraging for my students to hear about so many different paths they can take," said Snyder.
Linda McIntosh, who teaches at the Dana Hall School in Wellesley, said she plans to incorporate much of what she learned last week into her work in the classroom. "The students really feel like they are doing current, cutting-edge science," she said.
All of the teachers spoke of the relationships they formed with biology instructor Mandana Sassanfar and Professor Graham Walker. "They really value us," said McIntosh. "It is so nice to be around people who believe in what we are doing."
The last day of class was devoted to developing curricula around the material the group studied, although not all the teachers planned to use the lesson plans exactly.
"Even if we don't do it directly in the classroom, we can still reference what we did here," said Lydia Breen, a teacher at Stoneham High School. "Either way, they can see that their teachers are excited, and that gets them excited. We are so appreciative for what MIT is doing here."