MINOOKA – What do disc golf and rubber chickens have to do with math? Students at Minooka Community High School know it’s all a part of teacher Jason Allen’s class.
Allen began his career at MCHS as a student teacher and now has 16 years under his belt. He graduated from the University of St. Francis with a bachelor’s degree in actuarial science and a master’s degree in secondary education. He said he went into the education field because he always has liked it and found it rewarding to help people and it allowed him to utilize his creativity.
“Every day is different, I never know what to expect,” Allen said.
When Allen plans his lessons, he puts himself in the shoes of the student as if he were at the desk, so he strives to make math fun, and interesting and gives the kids plenty of brain breaks. He launched a new style of teaching in his room, instead of the standard lecture, he gives information and has the students break down into groups of three to work collaboratively on problems around the classroom which has created an effective hands-on approach to learning.
Allen said before the students mimicked how he solved a problem, now they think their way through the problem, hopefully, to prepare them for future success.
“He’s creative, engaging, constantly moving,” MCHS Director of Curriculum Phil Pakowski said.
Allen wants to keep what could be a mundane math class busy and active, so he plays music from the artist of the day and when it’s a student’s birthday, he plays a piece from their favorite musician. His desk has a variety of rubber chickens and to get the class’s attention he quotes “Seinfeld” while he holds one of his large rubber chickens.
“It’s not a super well-known quote from ‘Seinfeld,’ but it always tickles me. I say ‘bad chicken’ and the students say, ‘mess you up,’” Allen said of his technique.
He also has a disc golf basket in the corner of his room, as he is one of the head disc golf coaches and has been known to use it in his math teachings as well. No one will find a cellphone in his class because Allen has never owned one. He has a small notebook in his pocket to take his notes and reminders and he said he’s usually at school, so people know where to find him.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him sit down in his room, he’s constantly in motion,” MCHS Principal Jamie Soliman said.
Allen sets goals for himself as an educator, he wants to improve the lives of his students. He said a lot of students come to class with a bad taste in their mouth toward math and he wants to show them how math can be fun and beneficial in their lives.
He said he starts class with, “Welcome back to your …” and the students respond, “favorite class.”
He strives to learn new approaches and techniques and he cannot wait to see what new things will come out that will benefit his students. He said he’s never done learning.
“Jason is here every morning 30 minutes before school starts to work with students who need help in math. Some are not even his students, but he does what he needs to do to help kids,” Soliman said. “His heart is in the right place, he wants kids to learn math and he loves teaching math.”
Beyond math, he has coached disc golf for eight years and hopes it will move from a club sport to an Illinois High School Association sport. When it began, Allen said less than 10 students played, but he decided to switch the seasons from spring to fall and attendance took off because of better weather in the fall season. He also is head of the scholastic bowl, which his team won regionals for the second year in a row.
He said he has stayed at MCHS for the span of his career because it gives him everything he wants, and he feels supported and allowed to take professional risks.