Sparked by Genzyme, teachers become students in the Museum of Science's "living classroom"

April 26, 2011

BOSTON — This year, Genzyme Corporation and the Museum of Science, Boston mark the 15th anniversary of the Genzyme-Museum of Science Teacher Sabbatical Program, a unique professional development program, funded by the Cambridge-based biotechnology firm.

An in-depth experience for four to six elementary educators, the model program is unusual because educators leave their classrooms for a week during the school year for a fully immersive experience, instead of attending workshops at the end of the school day. Teachers learn to connect the Museum's 700 interactive exhibits, live science and engineering programs, and other educational resources to their curriculum and learning standards, while also discovering classroom strategies and sharing ideas with other teachers. The program focuses on developing content background, inquiry-based teaching skills, and confidence to use these skills in the classroom.

Teachers also see Museum educators in action, explore the science behind exhibits, and discover how live animal presentations and objects from Museum collections can deepen learning. Educators often design their own field trip, translating their sabbatical into a dynamic experience for their students in the future. The program not only underwrites substitute teacher coverage but also contributes $400 towards a field trip or other classroom resources.

"Teachers shape how students think about, learn, and interact with science and engineering -- so critical to success in today's competitive global economy," says Museum president and director Ioannis Miaoulis. "We are grateful to Genzyme for their support and excited to celebrate 15 years of this important program."

Since 1992, over 300 teachers from Boston, Cambridge, Framingham, Westborough, Waltham, and beyond have participated in the Museum's program, funded first by the Massachusetts education department and since 1997 by Genzyme. Teachers raved about the program from the start. For Ginny Toner, fifth grade bilingual teacher at Framingham's Charlotte Dunning School, her 2002 experience was like being part of a "living classroom." Hyde Park's Roosevelt Elementary School science specialist Judy Canney "wanted to get 'recharged,' to connect science to other curricula, to tie the Museum to the BPS Science Standards Curriculum, and to guide what students see. This program was one of the best educational experiences I've had."

More recently, Westborough's Mill Pond School fifth grade teacher Roxanne Donahue called her sabbatical "a rare, valuable experience" and said the impact of the Genzyme-sponsored field trip extended "beyond fun and specific knowledge." Her students "gained an elevated respect for and interest in science. I firmly believe that Genzyme is having a positive impact on science instruction in the communities where the sabbatical is offered," she wrote in December 2009.

Another Genzyme sabbatical participant, fifth grade teacher Jae Goodwin, went on to become Massachusetts 2009 -2010 Teacher of the Year.

This March, before six teachers from Framingham's Potter Road, Mary E. Stapleton, and Charlotte Dunning Elementary Schools immersed themselves in their sabbatical, Museum educators went out to talk with school principals about designing a program to meet district goals.

In April, when the Framingham teachers arrived, they participated in a simple design challenge to engage them in thinking about incorporating engineering in the classroom. Museum educators highlighted opportunities to tie math and language arts to science and engineering and supported the teachers in science inquiries and design projects. In "Weather Wonders," they discovered how air, water, and temperature combine to cause weather changes. On Friday, the three Framingham school principals brainstormed with their teachers at the Museum about how to support them as they try to change a program or aspect of teaching. The Museum has also invited the teachers back in the future to share their progress.

"We hold up Genzyme as a model for business in the community because they really support education and benefit our teachers and students. There's nothing else like this in the state. The sabbatical enables teachers to interact with all the Museum's resources for a week. Teachers compete to come; it's an honor to be chosen," says Paula Del Prete, principal, Potter Road School. The Framingham principals share a goal "to build a team of science teacher leaders in all three schools, who would meet to discuss the science curriculum and collaborate on science nights and fairs," says William McDonald, principal, Stapleton School. "We focus so much on math and literacy," adds Kimberly Taylor, principal, Dunning School. "After this sabbatical, our teachers return excited about science. Their enthusiasm travels to colleagues and students."

"Teachers tell us how long it's been since they could be learners," says Annette Sawyer, Museum director, education and enrichment programs. "We involve them in new ways of learning and teaching science." In a 10-year study of the Genzyme Teacher Sabbatical program, participants report that the program increased their knowledge of science content and teaching methods, as well their confidence and feelings of competence teaching science. The aspects valued most were learning ways to incorporate hands-on science activities in class and exploring the Museum as a learner and not just as a teacher on a field trip.

Sabbaticals for Waltham teachers are scheduled on October 3-7 and for Westborough October 24-28. Stay tuned for Cambridge and Boston.

"We are proud to collaborate with the Museum of Science on this model program that has provided valued educators with an opportunity to expand their understanding of science, technology and engineering," says Caren Arnstein, senior vice president of corporate affairs at Genzyme. "Our partnership with the Museum is a testament to our commitment to helping ensure that our teachers have all the tools available to help shape the minds of future generations of engineers and scientists." A 20-year Museum supporter, Genzyme established a permanent endowment, the Genzyme Biotechnology Education Initiative, in 2006. The $2 million gift was the largest single corporate gift in the Museum's history.

About the Museum of Science, Boston

The Museum takes a hands-on approach to science, engineering and technology, attracting about 1.5 million visitors a year via its programs and 700 interactive exhibits. Founded in 1830, the Museum was first to embrace all the sciences under one roof. Highlights include the Thomson Theater of Electricity, Charles Hayden Planetarium, Mugar Omni Theater, Gordon Current Science & Technology Center, 3-D Digital Cinema and Butterfly Garden. Reaching 25,000 teens a year worldwide via the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network, the Museum also leads a 10-year, $41 million National Science Foundation-funded Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network of science museums. The Museum's "Science Is an Activity" exhibit plan has been awarded many NSF grants and influenced science centers worldwide. Its National Center for Technological Literacy® aims to enhance knowledge of engineering and technology for people of all ages and inspire future engineers, inventors, and scientists. Visit

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