San Mateo teacher publishes textbook

Three years ago, San Mateo High School teacher Ellyn Daugherty's husband told her the happy truth: no matter how dedicated and infectious a teacher she was, she just couldn't teach all the other teachers who wanted to learn her biotechnology curriculum.

So she wrote the book instead. Now, two months after publication, “Biotechnology: Science for the New Millennium” has been adopted by schools nationwide and is likely to be adopted by the San Mateo Union High School District tonight.

“I've actually written four books,” Daugherty said. “I wrote a big text, then I wrote the laboratory manual. It gives students step-by-step training. Then there are the two teacher guides.”

The texts have already been adopted by schools in California and Washington, D.C., and are being considered by two cities in Ohio. Publisher EMC Paradigms has ordered a second print run months ahead of schedule, Daugherty said.

Daugherty started recording her laboratory curriculums 10 years ago, and began writing the book three years back. Like San Mateo High School’s biotech courses, it differs from other science textbooks in two important respects. Both high school and adult students can use it, and it focuses on the processes of laboratory work, with the concepts taught as a support to those processes.

“I’ve been teaching out of it for three years,” said Tina Doss, a biotech teacher at Carlmont High School in Belmont who contributed to the book. “I love the fact that it’s a hands-on textbook, rather than a concept-based textbook. They’re still learning concepts, but they’re learning by performing, rather than someone lecturing to them.”

Over the years, Daugherty’s initial 1988 honors after-school course in biotech has grown to a nine courses designed to prepare students for either college or immediate entry into the biotech industry as a laboratory worker. Writing the book was the hardest thing she’s ever done, she said.

“The history is that the industry only hires people with bachelor's degrees — many of them don't have any lab skills,” said Helyn Dahle, spokeswoman for biotech firm Cell Genesys, which provides internships for SMHS biotech students. “The high school students, it helps them sort out what they want to be.”

More than 1,500 students have taken biotech classes at San Mateo High School since 1994, of whom 770 have done an internship at one of 21 biotechnology companies, Daugherty said.

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