Dr. Carlos Parravino on Merck Institute
The Merck Institute for Science Education's (MISE) mission is to improve student engagement and performance in science and support the teachers who guide them.
In partnership with six school districts near Merck facilities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, MISE has improved science teaching and learning for local students and teachers and translated its best practices into key policy reforms, including expanded opportunities for underserved, minority communities.
In addition to a targeted geographic focus, MISE directs its activities toward students in kindergarten through 12th grade, an effort to wed children's curiosity and enthusiasm for learning with an ongoing investigative approach to science.
In collaboration with its district partners, parents, Merck employees, and policymakers, MISE has focused its educational capacity-building efforts in several key areas, including improving science teaching skills, providing access to exemplary curriculum materials, and encouraging ongoing assessment of student learning.
MISE also organizes and provides a variety of educational resources for its partner districts and supports policies at the local, state, and national levels that promote science education.
Grounded in the philosophy that deepening teachers' knowledge of science is crucial to improving student performance, MISE offers an array of professional development programs for district science teachers, curriculum directors, and administrators.
Peer Teacher Workshops, the Leader Teacher Institute, the Principals' Institute, study groups, and the Merck Fellows Program are all designed to create a well-resourced, peer-led science community.
MISE also focuses on providing teachers and administrators with better access to model science curricula.
"We didn't want to reinvent the wheel," explains Carlo Parravano, MISE's Executive Director. "Great instructional materials already exist, so it's about expanding knowledge and access for the people who need them, especially in underserved areas."
Successful strategies for engaging students in science depend on a careful, consistent analysis of what works and what does not. To that end, MISE has helped its partner districts implement a comprehensive plan for assessing their students' progress.
The plan includes nationally-recognized, standardized tests, formal and informal classroom performance assessments and evaluations of the most commonly used instructional models - all of which are used to identify areas for improvement as well as groups of students who may require additional attention and resources.
Because good teachers depend on financial as well as intellectual resources, MISE provides material supports to its partner districts such as books, periodicals and videotapes that focus on scientific learning.
It has also established two comprehensive resource centers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania that provide access to hundreds of curriculum modules and other hands-on materials that can be used to supplement classroom teaching.
Merck employees are encouraged to mentor local students and serve as a resource for district teachers.
In addition, MISE's portable planetarium, STARLAB, is also shared widely to present astronomy programs.
To leverage the success of its local practices, MISE participates actively in local, state, and national policy discussions about issues such as student assessment, teacher preparation and certification, and district financial allocations.
It has worked with its partner districts to implement National Science Education Standards and the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for Science.
Also key to its programs' success is MISE's long-term financial commitment to its target districts.
"The fact that Merck committed 10 years of resources was a very strong signal to our partners," says Parravano. " Changes take time. They are difficult to bring about in our own organization, so we shouldn't expect anything different from our partners."
In addition to targeted resources, a shared vision plays a fundamental role in MISE's programmatic and policy agenda.
"We have to begin by developing a shared vision of what we really mean by good teaching and learning in science," stresses Parravano. "Without a shared vision and commitment when you start, it's difficult to achieve the outcomes we are looking for."