Unique partnership will help Marin schools meet new science standards

Marin teachers intent on implementing new standards that call for hands-on, experiential science lessons are about to get some help -- thanks to the Buck Institute and a Larkspur couple who has put advancing science education at the top of their philanthropic to-do list.

Twenty-two science teachers have been huddling with Buck’s K-12 Education Coordinator Dr. Julie Mangada in our Patxi’s Pizza Learning Center - doing hands-on science and brainstorming ideas for lesson plans to be rolled out this fall to sixth grade science teachers who are responsible for approximately 2,500 middle school students. The pilot project is aptly named STEAM Engine – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics: ENGaging Imagination and Nurturing Excitement. It’s an effort that could be implemented in all Marin K-8 classrooms.

Sheri and Dayton Coles

The initial project has been funded by a generous gift from Dayton and Sheri Coles, who are also members of the Buck Advisory Council and active in our Impact Circle project. The couple has a long-standing interest in medical research (their daughter has Type 1 diabetes) and in education. Dayton and Sheri helped establish a Friends school in Pennsylvania. Sheri, who participates in the brainstorming sessions, taught elementary school for many years.

“I love attending the meetings and talking shop about the best ways to knit the science into the new standards,” said Sheri. “Supporting science education is very important to us and when we saw the potential in the Learning Center we asked ourselves if this could be parlayed into something useful in the county.”

Marin School Superintendent praises project
Mary Jane Burke, the Superintendent of Marin Schools, says the cooperative effort by the schools, the Buck and the Coles is unprecedented in the county. “This program has the potential to change the trajectory of education in the community,” she said. “It touches on everything we need for our kids to be successful. It involves creative thinking, collaborative learning and communication skills.”

The details of the lesson plans are still being worked out but are likely to include hands-on, Buck-related activities involving DNA, the use of water bears as model organisms for research, and the basics of stem cell biology, among other topics. Buck postdoctoral fellows might visit classrooms; the students will likely make field trips to the Buck. The Coles credit Mangada with getting the teachers fired up about the project. “She is a ‘wow’ person,” said Sheri. “Julie is one-of-a-kind, her enthusiasm to get kids excited about science is infectious.”

The pilot program will be rolled out to sixth grade teachers because that is the first year that students take science as a separate subject. If the pilot is successful, lesson plans will be developed for all elementary school teachers in preparation for testing of the Next Generation Science Standards which have been adopted and are to be implemented between 2016 – 2018. “People in general, and that includes teachers, tend to shy away from science because they don’t have the support they need,” said Burke. “This program will give them that support. It’s hands-on, it’s immersive, it’s not some ‘go read this book’ kind of thing. We expect it will be very impactful.”

The Patxi’s Pizza Learning Center at the Buck is a hub of activity for students of all ages. It was established following a major gift from Buck Institute Board Chair Larry Rosenberger and his wife Diane. The generosity of Patxi’s Pizza and its owner Bill Freeman has allowed the Buck to expand our educational programming.

Those interested in supporting the Learning Center and its projects should contact Lisa Palma:

lpalma@buckinstitute.org

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