To the outside eye, the computers delivered last week
to Darlene Malat's Forest Park High School classroom might
seem like no more than a collection of monitors and CPUs.
But to Malat, the much-anticipated equipment symbolizes a
bridge to a wonderland of scientific discovery for her
Last summer, Malat was one of nine Baltimore high
school teachers who took part in the Research Experience
for Teachers program at Johns Hopkins, which allows
teachers to spend five weeks in a research laboratory
working alongside a team of JHU faculty and graduate
students. The Johns Hopkins RET program, which began in
2001 and is sponsored by a grant from the National Science
Foundation, seeks to give participants hands-on lab
experience at the university level to enrich their teaching
and to show them real-world applications of science. In
addition to the laboratory time, participants, who earn a
competitive stipend, take a two-week crash course in
research methodology and proposal writing. At the end of
the program, participants can submit proposals for
classroom projects to the principal investigator of the
grant, who has NSF funds to support such endeavors.
In the grant proposal Malat wrote, she requested
computers outfitted with Probeware, software used to gather
and analyze data in science, math and technology classes.
Probeware systems allow the user, for example, to interface
with a graphing calculator or measure the PH of a liquid.
"With these systems my students can now connect math,
science and technology; it brings us into this century,"
says Malat, who has been teaching high school for nearly 30
years. "Right now in our high schools there is so much
emphasis on standardized testing and tests in general, but
this equipment will allow our students to get back to what
science is all about — discovery."
Leigh Abts, a principal research scientist in the
Department of Computer Science and principal
investigator and founder of the RET program at Johns
Hopkins, says that more than 125 teachers have worked with
JHU professors over the past four years. Abts says the
program has proved to be an effective way of enriching high
school science classrooms through the further education of
"The program concentrates on working with teachers
from inner city neighborhood schools, where students are
more likely to drop out than graduate. Teachers from these
schools are dedicated but lack the resources to properly
teach science and math," Abts says. "The RET program offers
opportunities for the teachers to not only gain the
resources but also the content support to encourage
students to continue their studies in science and math."
Malat worked in the lab of Michael Betenbaugh, chair
of the Department of
Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, where she
studied apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Malat says she
was not previously familiar with apoptosis and recalls
doing an Internet search when she first learned what the
specific focus of her research would be. Malat says she
quickly became fascinated with the lab's work, which in
time rekindled her passion for science.
"I've been teaching for a long time, and I'm always
looking for things to keep me interested in science, which
is why I applied to this program," she says. "By the end of
the experience at Johns Hopkins last summer, I was reminded
why I went into science to start out with. The research
work and the excitement of discovery brought it all back
for me. It was a reinvigorating and wonderful experience.
Teaching can be isolating at times, so it felt good to be
part of a team."
Sharon Ball, who also received her classroom equipment
last week, worked in the lab of David Gracias, an assistant
professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular
Engineering, where she conducted research on robotics and
Ball, who has taught science at Southwestern High
School in Baltimore for the past 10 years, says the
experience allowed her in a very short time to absorb a
wealth of research and engineering principles.
Specifically, she learned about chemical etching
technologies and the various applications of "smart dust,"
tiny wireless sensors that can detect everything from light
For her class at Southwestern, Ball wrote a grant
proposal requesting Lego Mindstorms kits so that students
could build basic robotic parts and systems, applying some
of the engineering principles she learned while at Johns
"I can't tell you what a big boost this equipment will
be for my students. I'm so excited that they will be able
to have a hands-on experience working with these
applications, not just reading about them," Ball says. "The
faculty and students at Johns Hopkins have shown tremendous
support and interest in my classroom. It's been such a
wonderful learning experience for me."
The faculty say the program has benefits for them as
well because it allows them to help improve the public
"We believe that if we impact the teachers, then we
impact a far greater number of students," Gracias says,
"because each teacher goes back to his world and takes it
back with him."
For more information about the RET program at Johns
Hopkins, contact Abts at
Jessica Valdez, an intern in the
Office of News and Information, contributed to this