Bothell High reaps benefits from teacher’s development

Bothell High science teacher Amanda Rainwater found a way to boost her school’s biology program at a time when budget cuts are proving restrictive.

Bothell High science teacher Amanda Rainwater found a way to boost her school’s biology program at a time when budget cuts are proving restrictive.

She did it with a bit of professional development.

Rainwater spent 16 days swapping knowledge on lab techniques and teaching strategies with scientists from local research institutions and biotechnology firms.

Her work was part of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Science Education Partnership (SEP).

Call it summer school for biologists, only the rewards are worth more than a few credits.

Teachers who complete the SEP program get access to Fred Hutchinson science-learning kits valued at $10,000 apiece.

Rainwater and her fellow teachers at Bothell High can use the equipment to conduct classroom experiments related to the study of DNA, bacteria transformation and genetics.

“These are things that, as a science teacher, are out of my league to purchase,” Rainwater said. “It opens up a lot of doors.

“As a teacher, this is awesome. With a limited budget, anything we can get for free is very helpful in the classroom.”

SEP participants also get access to surplus lab supplies from the regional research community, as well as a resource library full of textbooks and DVDs.

Educators from 20 communities participated in the Fred Hutchinson workshop this year.

“Each new group of teachers coming into SEP directly influences more than 3,000 students annually,” said SEP Director Nancy Hutchinson. “We send out the real thing. These are not kids’ toys.”

More than 130 teachers used the learning kits in their science classes during the 2007-2008 school year, benefitting an estimated 140,000 youths.

SEP participants spend part of their time working in research laboratories, something many of them haven’t seen since college.

“We used all kinds of techniques that weren’t around when I was in school,” Rainwater said. “I’ll definitely be using the resources and the techniques I learned about.”

The SEP research element pairs educators with scientists to work on projects that relate to their respective interests.

Rainwater helped conduct research on a gene suspected of causing lung tumors. The work applies to a cancer unit she teaches in her genetics classes.

“All of my students have been affected by cancer in some way, shape or form,” Rainwater said. “Any time you can make learning relevant to students, it’s so much more powerful.”

SEP participants spend the second half of the workshop learning to teach the latest scientific techniques and refine curricula.

That means turning science class into a hands-on experience whenever possible.

“That’s how kids learn best,” Rainwater said. “If you really want them to understand something, you need to have them work with it.”

The benefits of the SEP program are expected to reach everyone involved, as the scientists can improve their instructional and communication skills with help from professional teachers.

Rainwater has worked as an educator for nearly 10 years, bringing innovation everywhere she goes.

She started her career in 1999 at Inglemoor High, where she developed a new astronomy class and expanded the school’s International Baccalaureate program.

Her next gig was at an international school in Mexico City, where she created a hands-on human-physiology curriculum.

Rainwater returned to the Northshore School District in 2008, teaching science at Bothell High.

She and a colleague have worked to create a semester-long genetics course at the school.