Teaching the Teachers

A ‘whodunit’ approach to ninth-grade biology.

by Shirley Jinkins

Molly Weinburgh, professor of science education.
- photo by: Carolyn Cruz

Move along, there’s nothing to see here, except public school teachers becoming more effective in their biology classrooms.

Molly Weinburgh, professor of science education, is continuing her interactive evolution in science education with a project called “Biology: A Crime Scene Investigation.”

The “crime scene” aspect of the project, which targets ninth-grade biology, uses blood typing and fingerprinting kits, blenders and separation devices for students to look at DNA samples.

Weinburgh received a two-year, $250,000 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Her program gives ninth-grade teachers in multicultural schools guidance, hands-on mentoring and tips for engaging their students.

Teachers use biology texts and employ worded, mathematical and computational exercises. They receive stipends for participating in the programs, as well as materials and equipment for classroom experiments.

While making biology more relatable, Weinburgh said the teachers also reach English-language learners with the material. “It’s biological content, plus some training time with teachers who have not thought of themselves as teachers of math and language.”

With a 145-hour professional development commitment, the high school teachers devoted 15 days of summer break the first year and 10 days the second year. They also meet one Saturday a month during the school year as a group to share ideas, do labs together and discuss how to keep class experiments on track and successful.

On the required Saturday meetings, the teachers discuss their challenges and successes. They often report that classroom time management is one of their major challenges. One teacher might have two hours of class time for an experiment, while another might have just 45 minutes.

Collaboration among the teachers is an essential part of the program, said Weinburgh, who is also director of the Andrews Institute of Mathematics & Science Education. The teamwork helps teachers build their educational skills and gives them the confidence to succeed in the classroom.

The biology project continues Weinburgh’s specialty in mentoring public school teachers, using a creative approach for in-service training hours. “I love working with teachers and seeing what they deal with every day, academically and emotionally.”

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