A Poetic Journey into Science Education: The Italian PDI Experience

Ask Anna Pascucci about her experience becoming involved with the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE) program and her responses are poetic, romantic even:


“Life is made by sequences of things that happen which rarely remain in our memories...and then there are events…the events have the potential to expand time and space and represent the starting of a venturing phase. This was for me to meet Tara Bennett Bristow and Alia Qatarneh, ABE staff at Harvard University.”

Now site director of ABE in Italy, Pascucci vividly remembers that meeting in Boston where she learned about ABE for the first time. At the time, she was working with Amgen Teach, and she ended up speaking with Bristow and Qatarneh for 3 hours. “They simply opened their door,” she says. Two years later, Pascucci would meet with Bristow again, this time in Naples for the launch of the ABE-Italy program site.

What most drew Pascucci to the program and continues to drive her is ABE’s global breadth and impact. “We are working for the students through their teachers,” she says. “Students are becoming more and more global citizens, and teachers have the great opportunity to develop this vision and pass it to their students.”

About to enter its second full year, the ABE Italy site spent the summer like the other program sites, working with teachers at professional development institutes (PDIs) to prep them for the school year with the ABE curriculum and tools. And like for many sites, the core goal of the PDIs in Italy has been to nurture the creation of learning communities. “Learning communities represent the backbone of any transformative process in education,” Pascucci says. “Thus, since the initial design, PDIs in Italy have had the aim to foster the creation of communities at different scales – international, national, regional, and local.”

Strategies to create these communities include aligning the PDIs with national curriculum and cutting-edge science, as well as interconnecting sessions that bridge pedagogical skills for inquiry-based learning and knowledge development. The PDIs, Pascucci says, have allowed teachers to bring back many versatile tools to adapt for their specific needs.

“Trainees come back from the PDIs with more confidence and excited to take the challenge to be involved and to involve their students,” she says. “They never feel alone: Science education is an exciting collective adventure.”

Indeed, says Maria Angela Fontechiari of Liceo delle Scienze Umane Sanvitale in Parma, Italy: “The opportunity to attend to an intensive teacher training fosters the creation of a learning community that made it possible to exchange ideas and practices among teachers. After completing the training, teachers' collaboration and interaction can go on, even at a distance, thanks to the sharing of learning and teaching materials developed in each school and collected by the ABE team.”

ABE began as a pilot program in Italy in 2016, though other professional development for teachers had been widely run by ANISN, Italy’s National Association of Natural Sciences Teachers for a number of years. Pascucci credits the first year ABE participants as helping to build the foundational architecture that has allowed the program to scale up. Next year, the site is planning to create a distribution center in the Umbria region, in the center of Italy. A cohort of teachers in that region received training in the pilot phase, and they are now preparing to coordinate local activities and to supply the schools with the materials and equipment needed – closely coordinated with the national site in Naples. This expansion will enable future PDIs to take place. 

Calling her experience with ABE a “romantic story,” Pascucci says that she most values the program’s transformative capabilities. “We well know that the ABE program offers a unique opportunity to science teachers and students in Italy, so we are not surprised by the great enthusiasm of trainees and students,” she explains. “What we look forward to more and more is the long-term commitment of teachers to not simply view ABE as one-time enjoyable experience in their professional lives where afterwards, they return to their usual ways of teaching, but instead to view their commitment as a change in how they approach teaching science, to be nurtured step by step. This is an intimate transformation able to change their attitude about what science is and how it works.”