It’s an in-class field trip every day for the students in Justin Hart’s fourth grade science class at Richland One’s Caughman Road Elementary School. Donning a white lab coat, spectacles and a white wig, much like the “mad scientist” he portrays, Hart’s goal is to cross instructional boundaries in the classroom, all for the sake of reaching students who may not otherwise be interested in science.
“So this (teaching) is something that I said I’m going to take this and run with it. I’m going to add a little flair to this job,” said Hart, a first-year science and math teacher who also serves as Caughman Road’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) coordinator. “It starts a conversation in their homeroom classes. (Students say) I want to be in his class and see what it’s all about.”
The lessons these days are all about the Earth’s atmosphere. He poses a series of questions to his students: What is the atmosphere? Where is it? What does it look like? How does it protect us?
Once Hart felt the students had mastered the lesson, he gave them an opportunity to share their knowledge by instructing them to teach it to him. With easel-style flip charts in tow, the students broke out into groups and created their own lesson plans to present to the class, easily making the transition from student to teacher. Those who appeared docile while receiving instruction were suddenly shuffling around for a pen to make their contribution to the lesson that was to be taught.
According to Hart, giving them ownership as the teacher links their efforts as students to mastery and success, even resulting in them displaying the same level of energy and confidence as the teacher as they deliver instruction.
“When we’re excited, students are going to be excited,” said Hart. “As you can see behind me, they have a lot of high energy to talk about the atmosphere and get to work.”
Though the mad scientist theme came to Hart while he was brainstorming ideas to stir students, it was his reflection on what peaked excitement in him during his time as a student in Richland One schools that solidified the notion.
“I thought back to things that made me excited about science,” said Hart, who is a 2017 graduate of Eau Claire High School, where he served as the 2016-2017 student body president. “It was always about some mad scientist who decided to attempt to blow something up.”
It’s not by chance that Hart made his way back to teach in the district that ignited his passion for science, citing the single most determinant as “…the (occasion) to serve the students in Richland One because this is the district that gave me a plethora of opportunities as a student.”