Originally created 08/16/97

Real-life exposure for teachers of tomorrow



BALTIMORE (AP) - The cluttered, windowless lab where Mandy Carver has spent the summer studying leukemia cells and amniotic fluid is a far cry from the elementary or middle school classrooms where she hopes to teach one day.

But the 19-year-old education major believes her wonder at the real stuff of life and death, as witnessed through a microscope, will spread to school children.

"These are people with cancer," Carver said during a break from her internship studying cells at the University of Maryland Medical Center. "That's too much."

Few teachers-in-training get such direct exposure to the tools, methods and quiet drama of research. But the National Science Foundation is helping universities in Maryland and 11 other states in a project they hope will produce better science and math teachers.

Since 1993, the foundation has committed $65 million in federal tax money for the Maryland program and other five-year projects.

Other Maryland students have been studying oysters in the Patapsco River, monitoring air pollution in Baltimore's inner harbor and designing Web sites and other teaching projects at NASA, the National Geographic Society and Washington's National Zoo.

Some of the first graduates will begin teaching this fall.

Carver knows the old way of learning, which educators fear has limited science's appeal to all but a few of a school's young students.

"Science was always something you studied out of a textbook," said Carver, preparing for her junior year at Towson University, a state institution in her native Baltimore. "Even when you studied plants, you didn't even go outside."

Elementary or high school teachers may have lacked the skills to do much more - something the program hopes to change.

After all, only 2 percent of elementary school math and science teachers in the nation's public schools have college majors in those subjects, the National Center for Education Statistics reported last month.

Nearly 70 percent, on the other hand, are general education majors such as Carver. Teachers thus must find other ways to keep pace with rapidly expanding scientific knowledge, particularly now in biology.

Carver seems to have picked up a lot during 10 weeks at the big-city hospital complex.

She used pipettes to transfer microliters of solution. "I didn't even do that in college," she says.

She's prepared gels for electrophoresis, a common technique to separate proteins or DNA. She's looked for signs of birth defects in amniotic fluid. And she's prepared karyotypes - chromosome charts.

She also studied leukemia cells with a new technique using fluorescent light. The pinpoints of antifreeze green light on the rust-colored marrow cells enable researchers to detect an abnormality associated with a more severe attack. The cells don't have to be dividing the way they do for more traditional analysis.

"It's hard to get metaphase cells from the cultures," she explains, then calls to one of her mentors, Judith Stamberg. "Is it due to a low mitotic yield?"

Questions. That's what scientists like to hear.

Carver must write up and present her research in cooperation with a graduate student.

But Carver also saw and learned things beyond the actual science - like the ages of the pregnant women, many of them far younger than she is. "These are just a lot of kids," she said. "It's shocking."

Another jolt came when her partner in the cancer cell research told her before he left on a vacation: "I have to get you the reports on these patients to let you know if they're still alive."

And she learned about the hit-or-miss aspects and occasional tedium of scientific research - important lessons to one day pass on to young students.

"It seems like too much of it is spending hours doing these experiments and then getting nothing out of it," she said. "You get no results or your results don't work. It seems like only 10 percent is actually success."