Copied from the Almaden Resident 0731 | Friday, August 3, 2007


Photograph by Vicki Thompson

Joseph Castellano, who volunteers at Bret Harte Middle School, is among the retired scientists who team up with local school teachers to enhance local science classes through the nonprofit RE-SEED program.

Retired chemist brings his love of science to local students with 'RE-SEED' program

By Lydia Sarraille

A national organization hoping to plant a love of science in middle-school children has taken root in Almaden Valley.

Project RE-SEED, which stands for Retirees Enhancing Science Education through Experiments and Demonstrations, has sent volunteers to Bay Area schools for the past seven years to team up with science teachers in an effort to improve the quality of science education.

Joseph Castellano, an Almaden resident for the past 32 years, spent last year demonstrating scientific principles in Hope Oliver's eighth-grade classroom at Bret Harte Middle School as a RE-SEED volunteer.

A retired chemist and part of the team of scientists at RCA Laboratories who developed the first liquid-crystal displays, Castellano spent 47 years in scientific research, technology development and management.

Castellano heard about the RE-SEED program last year from his contacts at the American Chemical Society and said he decided to give it a try.

"It's been a great way to stay sharp," Castellano said. "I keep having to go back and read the old textbooks and brush up on my basics."

Castellano developed several experiments for the students he helped teach last year, including one that demonstrated the properties of rubber by mixing Elmer's glue with borax, and flame tests that are used to identify different chemicals by the color they make when they burn.

"The goal of the program is to keep the kids interested and help them understand the practical application of scientific principles," Castellano said. "A lot of students ask when they will ever have to use the stuff they learn in science class, and it's my job to show them that not only is it useful, you can have a whole career in science."

Peter K. Mueller, RE-SEED coordinator, said part of the program's aim is to help children become more interested in science so they will consider careers in science and technology.

"I invited Joe to collaborate on demonstrations, experiments and projects with the goal of communicating the excitement of pure science and how science links to math, technology and careers," Oliver said. "Our vision is to encourage more students to earn degrees in science and mathematics."

Mueller said he believes the program helps all its participants.

"It's stimulating for the volunteers, because they are forced to find ways to make the subject more accessible for the kids, and they have to find new ways to express ideas that the students can grasp," Mueller said. "By supporting the teachers, the program provides an enriched curriculum for the schools."

Castellano said he has enjoyed working with the children at Bret Harte, and will return in the fall.

"The kids are wonderful," Castellano said. "I've loved every minute with them, and Hope is terrific. She and I make a great team."

Next year, Castellano said he hopes to take students on field trips to NASA and the DeAnza Planetarium in Cupertino, and is looking forward to developing new lessons and experiments with Oliver.

"I'm really just an extra pair of hands and another mind to help the teacher," Castellano said. "It's been a fun thing to do in my retirement. I just wish I had found out about it sooner."

Oliver said she feels the experiment of inviting Castellano into her classroom has been a great success.

"My students enthusiastically anticipated Mr. C's visit each week," Oliver said. "I came to appreciate how student learning soared on the days when Joe worked with my students. They considered it a privilege to work with Joe discussing their experimental data or Joe's demonstrations [and] honing skills in data analysis and graphing."

Mueller said that the program, which currently has about 20 volunteers in the Bay Area, is in need of more.

"We'd like to get at least 40 people to volunteer this year," Mueller said.

RE-SEED is a national program that began at Northeastern University in 1991. The program has spread since then to 10 states and more than 100 communities.

According to the RE-SEED website, the program is important because only 17 percent of middle-school science teachers have a degree or even a minor in science.

"Our volunteers bring their experience and strong backgrounds in science to the table, helping the teachers convey the material to the students," Mueller said.

Mueller said RE-SEED is currently attempting to recruit more volunteers for the program.

"To really get this program to be effective, we need a lot more volunteers," Mueller said. "Anyone with a strong scientific background can do this, and you don't need to be retired, necessarily."

For more information on RE-SEED and to volunteer, visit