Seminars on Science
Pat Raynock


Pat Raynock ©AMNH

For Pat Raynock, a biology and chemistry teacher in Pennsylvania, science is not something you read about, but something you do. She encourages her students to ask questions, observe closely, and pursue their own lines of inquiry, so they can experience discovery first-hand. "I think it's important for kids to become involved with developing authentic science investigations and to see science as our tool for developing understanding of the natural world," she says. "Each year it seems as if kids become more and more isolated from the natural processes happening all around them. A big part of our job as educators is to make science experiential for our kids, and to bring them back into contact with nature." Pat received her B.S. in Secondary Education from West Chester University and her M.S. in Microbiology/Biochemistry from Rutgers University.

Growing up, Pat's own interest in nature was supported by her mother, who was a botanist. Pat collected insects and shells, grew plants, raised a menagerie of animals, and filled the basement with tanks of fish and reptiles. Her mother got upset only once, Pat recalls, "when a snake turned up in the laundry." Mentored by a favorite high school teacher, Pat created a series of award winning research projects. When she became a science teacher herself, she continued that teacher's tradition and attracted a group of kids to do research in an old supply room.

Pat convinced her school to convert a much larger room into an Independent Study Research Team center, to serve as a "clubhouse" for student projects. Her kids run the center themselves, with Pat serving as a facilitator. "Whatever their interests, I try to find an outlet," Pat explains. Every year, her students place in science competitions. Several groups have been nationally recognized with a recent team winning $20,000 for inventing a seatbelt safety alarm that goes off when a child unbuckles his seatbelt - a project inspired by a mischievous little sister.

Pat's most ambitious student research project was born when a planned vacation to the Virgin Islands was nearly scuttled by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. She and her family went anyway and spent their entire vacation collecting and discarding debris that threatened wildlife on the island's beaches and precious coral reefs. Back home, Pat organized a fundraising drive that raises $30,000 each year to send her biology students to the Virgin Islands to conduct conservation research. Some of her other Eco-Adventure teams have traveled to wilderness areas around the United States as she "takes kids to nature". Her field program has been going for over twenty years. Pat designs and implements each program for her students and has published papers on how to develop and fund "home grown" science field experiences for students.

In 1998, Pat was accepted into the University of Washington based REVEL research program in which teachers work alongside scientists on marine research vessels to study the Juan de Fuca ocean floor spreading center. Scientists from several universities and from the American Museum of Natural History worked at this site to retrieve hydrothermal vent chimney fragments for study. Some of these sulfide structures now reside in the Museum's Hall of Planet Earth. Pat's line of inquiry involved study of some hydrothermal vent invertebrates, and led to the publication of an academic paper in Biological Bulletin. "Students must see their teachers actively engaged in observing the natural world and investigating its mysteries for them to gain an understanding of what science really is," Pat says.

Her most recent "first" for her students was to have her independent study kids prepare an entry in the international Open Architecture Competition. The student based team was the first entry by a high school team in the competitions history. The group, working with Pat and Pat's architect husband, designed and submitted a community center for the Kalari cocoa growers in Ecuador. The building plan allowed the growers to establish a community based center for processing and shipping chocolate, helping to preserve local autonomy for the villagers. The project was an international finalist in the competition. Following the competition, Mrs. R. traveled with her student team to Peru and spend a summer learning about sustainability practice in South America.

During "the year of the Ocean", Pat was accepted into the University of Washington based REVEL research program in which teachers work alongside scientists on marine research vessels to study the Juan de Fuca ocean floor spreading center. Scientists from several universities and from the American Museum of Natural History worked at this site to retrieve hydrothermal vent chimney fragments for study. Some of these sulfide structures now reside in the Museum's Hall of Planet Earth. Pat's line of inquiry involved study of some hydrothermal vent invertebrates, and led to the publication of an academic paper in Biological Bulletin. "Students must see their teachers actively engaged in observing the natural world and investigating its mysteries for them to gain an understanding of what science really is," Pat says.

In 2001 Pat went on sabbatical from her home school in Pennsylvania and became a teacher in residence at the Museum, working at the Museum's Education Department and at NSCLET. She sees Seminars on Science as a way to spread the enthusiasm and thinking processes of Museum researchers. "As people work through a course, they can see that scientists are just like the rest of us - asking questions with the same sense of awe that we have." Her hope is that learners transfer that sense of awe to their formal projects at the end of the course. "I love to see people start out with an idea that's traditional and transform it into a student-centered, inquiry-based exploration."

In 2008, Pat was named National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) Biology Teacher of the Year for the state of Pennsylvania. That same year she was recognized as a Presidential Commended Teacher through the Presidential Scholars program.

In her classroom, she continues to work with the Museum Education Department and with the NSCLET Center. She has helped prepare education materials in the Museum's online Resources for Learning initiative, and has continued to instruct courses presented in the Seminars On Science program. This past summer she was the Museum Educator for an AMNH Family Discovery Tour to the Galapagos Islands. As for her own future explorations, she says, "I'd like to try Antarctica next."

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