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Merck: Teacher Education

The Merck Fellows Program. The Merck Fellows program was established by the Merck Institute as part of its long-standing commitment to support and encourage future science and mathematics teachers. Beginning in 1992, the Merck Institute funded a pre-service program allowing undergraduates in Princeton Universitys Teacher Preparation Program to supplement their training with science-teaching field experiences in a local public school.

The program has evolved and now includes a group of pre-service students (Merck Fellows) as participants in the Leader Teacher Institute. The students learn the fundamentals of inquiry-centered instruction and then partner with a Leader Teacher in his/her classroom. Beginning in 1995, Merck Fellows were chosen from Montclair State University, which has an existing partnership with the Merck Institute, including offering graduate credit to participants in the Leader Teacher Institute. ln 1997, the program expanded to include Beaver College in Pennsylvania. A total of 13 Merck Fellows participated in the program in 1997-98.

Prospective Merck Fellows apply to the program after completing several teacher preparation courses and at least one field placement. Applications include letters of recommendation, personal statements, resumes, and transcripts. These are reviewed by a committee of faculty from the applicant's college or University and the staff of the Merck Institute. The committee recommends candidates to the Institute's director, who makes the final selections. Fellows receive a stipend for their participation.

Merck Fellows can be categorized into two groups: (1) those preparing to be elementary teachers, who generally have limited science backgrounds but extensive experience in child development and language arts, and (2) those preparing to teach secondary science and/or mathematics, who possess rich content backgrounds. In general, all of the Fellows are knowledgeable about computers and educational technology. Both groups enter the program with minimal exposure to inquiry-centered instructional methods and little experience observing inquiry-centered classrooms.

To prepare them to engage in the Leader Teacher Institute, Merck Fellows spend one full week prior to the Institute assisting in the classroom of a Leader Teacher. This week provides an opportunity to observe students engaged in inquiry-centered science and mathematics lessons. Following participation in the summer session of the Leader Teacher Institute, the Merck Fellows have a second field placement. At this time, they are able to be more actively engaged in instruction, including planning and teaching their own lessons. At the conclusion of this field placement, each Fellow submits a portfolio containing descriptions of the lessons they have developed, assessment activities, samples of student work, self-evaluations, a journal, and a reflective paper.

At the present time, there is no formal assessment of the Merck Fellows project. The following are being considered: (1) assessing the portfolios submitted by the Fellows; (2) tracking the impact of the Leader Teacher Institute and field experience on the ability of the Fellows to design and instruct using inquiry-centered lessons; (3) tracking, long term, the career paths of the Fellows and their ability to provide leadership in mathematics and science reform.

Although the Merck Fellows program reaches only a small number of students at present, it offers them significant exposure to the inquiry approach to science teaching to working with accomplished practitioners of this approach.

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