Teaching to higher standards

Channahon Junior High science teacher positive about new protocol

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Channahon Junior High School seventh-grade science teacher Kirk Lange is making the most of the new science standards, declaring that they give him even more opportunity to immerse his students into science.

While many see the new Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS, as too complex or demanding, Lange sees them as a great opportunity.

Seventh grade focuses on biology, he said, which is the perfect venue to combine subject matter with projects, collaboration and technology, which is what the new K-12 standards are all about.

“I was looking to make a big change,” Lange said, “and with the new standards, it seemed like the best time to make a big shift. I took everything I was doing and revamped it from the ground up. I think this will show us what the students can really do with higher-order thinking. ... I’m driving for a much deeper understanding.”

In a generation where teachers sometimes struggle with how to incorporate technology effectively into the classroom, Lange has figured out how to use technology as an accelerant for learning, not just as a fancy workbook or dictionary.

Students at the junior high use laptops and Chromebooks on a daily basis, and are less reliant on textbooks than they were even last year. Next year, the school will become 1:1 with its student to devices ratio.

The projects in Lange’s class are inquiry-based.

“It’s a lot less of me telling them science,” he said, “and a lot more of them discovering science themselves.”

Rather than him standing in front of the class giving lectures, although he does do his share of up-front teaching, the students receive their assignments and make their discoveries through the projects, then they have classroom discussions where Lange talks to them about the intricacies of the subject matter and the big picture of where their topics fit in.

An example is when his students learn about the senses. They study the subject, then brainstorm in groups to design their own lab experiments. The students might then formalize their results using technology to present to the class.

In a genetics unit, they will learn about mitosis and meiosis, find images of cells dividing on microscope slides, transmit the images digitally to their computers, focus the images on the exact cells they believe best show a particular stage of division and even label the cells.

On the same computer screen, they can take notes, do research and form a presentation.

“Then as a culminating act,” Lange said, “we rehash the entire project in an interactive way. I want to make sure they retain the information.”

He’s hoping to significantly increase how well his students understand science, solve problems, collaborate, think critically and communicate well.

“I think it challenges the students more,” he said. “Anything that challenges them, engages them. I feel it’s important to make my class fun so kids enjoy science.”

“It’s more up to date and challenging,” student Amelia Walsh said of the science program.

“You’re not just reading out of a textbook,” Jacob Fuhrman said. “This makes it a little more fun.”

Lange, along with his fellow CJHS teacher Tim Hanson, was awarded a Joliet Chamber of Commerce Great Teacher Award last year.

Channahon Junior High School Principal Chad Uphoff said he feels he and the students are blessed to have a teacher like Lange on staff who has a passion for what he does and for the students he teaches.