Classroom's mad science experiment gets students learning

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by ALLEN SCHAUFFLER / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on October 28, 2011 at 6:08 PM

Fifth grader Daliantae McNeill called his classroom at Pine Tree Elementary in Kent different.

"I have never been in a room like this," he said with a laugh.

And the teacher who's running things in this rather odd teaching space? Just ask Isabel Jenkins about him.

"A little bit of a nut!" she said, but added that it is a good thing that he's nutty.

She's talking about Jeromie Heath, an eight-year teaching veteran who has turned his classroom into a cheerful house of horrors for the season and is using a mad scientist persona to help spread the word about how math and science work. There are jars full of fluorescent eyeballs, skulls and skeletons, bats and bugs, a Tyrannosaurus Rex appears to be breaking through the wall.

Not exactly standard school district-issued material for classroom learning. Heath said he doesn't even know how many hundreds of dollars he's spent.

"Even things like highlighters," he said. "It might seem simple but those aren't district-provided."

Oh yes, the highlighters. Bright yellow shows up so nicely when Heath turns out the light and turns on the black light and the students do their long division problems in the eerie darkness of some dreadful tomb. They get rewarded with 3D glasses and picures of creepy spiders and bats if they do math problems correctly. Of course they love it. And want more of it. 

"It's not very often that you hear fifth graders do this," commented principal Shannon Stanton "He says, 'We're not going to do another computation problem, we're done with long division,' and you hear them moan."

The "Mad Science Lab" of Dr. Heath is a walk-in teaching tool and learning environment that actually makes math and science fun. Yes, fun. So fun the kids can assign themselves extra work. And they often do. Just ask Trent Sand.

"Sometimes I even give myself extra homework. Even though I don't get homework all the time I make myself homework," Trent said.

Heath and his three colleagues on the science staff have been able to dramatically improve student performance on standardized math and science tests. And even though he spends his opwn money on the gruesome touches that help him teach, he says it's all worth it. He is passionate about teaching and the kids' response to learning is what keeps him going.

"Half  the battle in education is getting them to want to learn," Heath said, keeping a perfectly straight face while decked out in a white lab-coat, skull-tie, huge wire-rim glasses and a long, crazy black wig, his "Mad Scientist" get-up. "If it means dressing up, if it means buying things, I'll do that. Because I get the joy out of seeing children enjoy it."
 

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