Cathy Messenger has long understood that the best way to teach kids science is to show them what the discipline's complicated formulas and physics are good for.
So when the Los Gatos High School chemistry teacher heard there was private grant money available to launch the sort of advanced research class that she'd been thinking about for years, she jumped at it. Now she presides over a classroom of 21 students working on everything from sending water samples to space to reversing benzene contamination of soil with phanerochaete chrysosporium.
Yes, phanerochaete chrysosporium.
"You learn the content and it means something," Messenger says of her class where students were recently typing on laptops, mixing solutions and discussing findings with each other. "It's about the experience. When do you retain information the most? When you've learned something that you have to immediately put to use."
I first heard from Messenger about her Advanced Science Research class last summer. I had just written about the Google ( GOOG ) Science Fair and said that I intended to write more columns about ideas that can help spark students' interest in science, technology, engineering and math. It turns out that Sabera Talukder, one of the Google finalists, had taken Messenger's class last year, the first year she offered it.