Category Archives: Science

Meet Our Teachers: Jeanne Pagliaro

Jeanne Pagliaro teaches seventh-grade physical science and eighth-grade life science.

Ms. Pagliaro began her career in middle school, but she also taught high school courses for many years in both public and private schools. She joined Morgan Park Academy this fall after being the STEM division chair and AP biology and biomedical sciences teacher at Queen of Peace High School, where she collaborated with other high schools, universities, professional organizations and alumnae, working with them to inspire more students to pursue engineering fields after high school.

She holds a B.S. in secondary education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master of Education degree from the University of St. Francis.


How would you describe your ideal student?

This student has a sense of humor and is also willing to take risks; is not afraid to be wrong. I believe we learn a great deal from our mistakes, and I do my best to provide a classroom that encourages risk-taking and self-discovery along with laughter and joy. As a student, I was terrified to be wrong, and so I do not want my own students to have the same experience.

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Meet Our Teachers: Lynsey Bochenek-Robertson

We are pleased to welcome Lynsey Bochenek-Robertson ’06 back to Morgan Park Academy this fall to teach Upper School science. This year, she is teaching chemistry and genetics, plus coaching tennis and soccer.

Ms. Bochenek attended Murray State University on a full tennis scholarship, earning an undergraduate degree in pre-med biology and chemistry and a graduate degree in biochemistry while conducting research in renal physiology. After teaching human anatomy and human physiology as a grad student, she entered the profession by teaching chemistry at Butler College Prep.


What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I teach because I believe it is my calling. I am always aiming to help each student unravel his or her uniqueness. I also want to install a love of learning in students, so they will always have a desire to grow and develop into the best version of themselves.

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Meet Our Teachers: Jessica Stephens

Please help us welcome Jessica Stephens, who joins the Morgan Park Academy faculty as a sixth-grade math and science teacher and sixth-grade advisor.

Mrs. Stephens has taught at both the middle school and high school level, teaching algebra, chemistry, biology, and seventh- and eighth-grade science.

She holds a B.A. from Princeton University, where she majored in psychology as a pre-medicine student.


What is the most important life lesson you want students to learn in your class?

I appreciate George Bernard Shaw’s quote that what is most important is seeing “the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” I desire most that students learn the value of knowledge and the importance of pursuing truth. This life lesson will transform students into individual persons who set the intent to educate the self rather than passively awaiting another to dispense knowledge — only to be tempted to either instill such knowledge or carelessly discard it upon its false evaluation of its worth. Therefore, my hope is that in understanding the worth of knowledge and the pursuit of truth, one’s perspective will be the impetus in doing the former rather than the latter.

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Why I like being a teacher in an ISACS school.

Over the past two months, I have had the opportunity to experience three professional development opportunities: I presented at the Illinois Science Teachers Association (ISTA) in October, I went on an Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) accreditation team visit in late October, and I presented at the ISACS Annual Conference in early November. These three experiences reinforced the rewards of being a teacher at an ISACS school.

At the ISTA conference, I gave a presentation titled “Back to BINGO for Bio Vocab” in which I shared some tools that I use to help students learn complex biology vocabulary. Although I had been to ISTA as a participant for several years, this was my first time presenting and I was reminded of how intimidating it can be. At MPA, we constantly encourage our students to demonstrate their understanding of material in a variety of ways. We encourage our students to speak up in front of the class, design models of scientific inquiry, and propose new solutions to problems. We also have students present on a regular basis and they have developed the tools to collaborate with each other and be comfortable in front of a group of their peers. Presenting at the conference reminded me of how important it is to have opportunities for students to “show what they know.”

drownCurrently, I am in my 16th year of teaching at MPA, during which I have been through two ISACS self-study processes, a process that occurs every seven years for each member school. In late October, I had the opportunity to serve on an accreditation team for the first time and see the other side of this process. The collegiality and collaborative effort that is needed to be a successful accreditation team is tremendous. In the span of three days, the team needs to have a good understanding of the school they are evaluating and work together with other members from several schools in order to complete a detailed report. With this experience, I was again reminded of how well-prepared our students are to encounter situations such as these. Through activities such as Project Week, Service Days, and cross-division events, our students are exposed to many opportunities to work with people in different learning environments and achieve goals with people whom they have just met.

Finally, although I have attended several ISACS conferences over the past years, this was also my first time presenting at this conference. I delivered “Back to BINGO for Bio Vocab” to my ISACS peers. This session was extremely productive because although I was the official presenter, the collaborative effort in the room was fantastic. The proposal of new ideas and the contribution from all teachers present in the room was amazing. I came away from that opportunity feeling validated in strategies I was currently using and also challenged to think of alternative ways to continue building on tools that I currently use. This is another reminder of how at MPA we encourage discussion and sharing, and how we want students to be able to review the work of their peers and provide constructive feedback.  

In each of these three opportunities, I was reminded of the ISACS mission and vision: ISACS leads schools to pursue exemplary independent education. ISACS schools empower students to contribute and thrive in a diverse and changing world.

MPA is a place that embraces these goals and I am pleased with the opportunities that teachers in Independent Schools have to continue their learning.

By Emily Drown

Mrs. Drown is an Upper School science teacher and the Curriculum Leader for our Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Department.

Sharing Stories to Enhance Learning

The most useful ISACS Conference Workshop I have attended in the time I have been at the Academy was titled “Mirrors & Doors: Learning, Sharing & Comparing Our Stories”, presented by two members of the Orchard School in Indianapolis, IN. I use the ideas presented by the facilitators in numerous curriculum activities in my science classes in addition to sharing stories with colleagues and parents. Specifically, the conference challenged us to think: “By sharing our stories we see ourselves in others. How well do we know the people that we work with? How well do we know ourselves? How can we share and hear stories of others in a positive, meaningful, and tangible way?” (ISACS Conference Brochure, 2014). Here are several stories I use in my classes to help students understand and retain concepts like “meaning embodied in objects”, “visualization of a scientific principle”, and “intellectual property”.

Mr. Malcolm 1Crimson King Maple, Ginko, Weeping Mulberry, Osage Orange. These trees were all part of a field trip in which my class taxonomically identified the trees planted on our campus. I incorporated stories of those individuals who beautified our grounds with these trees throughout the walk. At one time, the campus had over 50 different species of trees, many of which were planted by Mrs. Price, the original owner of the three city lots which make up our Outdoor Classroom today. Other stories I shared that day included the time when one cow provided milk for the Price Family and some neighbors off a pasture east of Alumni Hall, the Quad filled with American Elm trees killed by the Dutch Elm Disease, and the memorial Green Ash trees in front of Hansen Hall dying from the Emerald Ash Borer. These trees were planted in honor of Mr. Wolf, an MPA teacher, and Mr. Kennedy, an MPA Board member.  I talked about who these individuals were and why we honored them. In each case, the trees were of more than scientific interest – they embodied meaning and memory.  

A story which I use each year when my 7th grade students study motion is about my motorcycle mother.  Yes, my mother rode a motorcycle. She has ridden figuratively many times in Room 212 here at the Academy to demonstrate acceleration. As she gets on her motorcycle, her velocity is 0 m/sec north. She hits the start pedal, revs the engine, and “wheelies” down the room to a final velocity of  50 m/sec north in 1 sec. We then calculate her acceleration (change in velocity divided by the time it takes to make that change). With this sharing of a story, a lesson on motorcycle safety becomes more vivid and a respect for speed develops. The image – an unforgettable one according to many – makes acceleration easy to recall.

Sustainable Nanotechnology, the role of  proteins in several types of cancers, and the text Biomedical and Health Information Sciences are each areas of science in which past MPA students showed interest and who have gone on to publish. My students have used quotes from these past students’ research in their labs. With the story of a student who sat in the class where they are sitting, who has taken their passion in science research and turned it into a career in science, students understand a little more about their true ownership of their own written words, they have more  respect for the authors of the published works they use in their reports, and they develop a commitment to the passions they are exploring. That students like themselves have published their own stories of research and discovery clarifies the concept of intellectual property for current students.

Still, we have to ensure that the focus of these stories, the emphasis, is the science, that the scientific concepts do not get lost in the narration. I invite you to tell your Academy story.  I invite you to write it down and share it.

By Thomas Malcolm

Mr. Malcolm teaches Middle School science at Morgan Park Academy, a Chicago Private Independent School.

What I Learned from my Favorite Teacher

Dr. David Sandmire, a professor in the life sciences department at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, has been one of my most influential teachers. I first met him while taking his Anatomy and Physiology course during my sophomore year. He is the person to whom I credit with changing my major to medical biology, with changing my career aspirations to teaching, and is the reason I enjoy teaching and feel confident in my ability to do so. Dr. Sandmire was the first person who allowed me to experience authentic learning, by which I mean, learning through critical thinking and analysis, rather than just simply memorizing.

drownAdmittedly, I was completely confused and overwhelmed with the first authentic learning case study that he gave us to complete. Dr. Sandmire had configured each study in just the right way that even if we would have had the almighty “Google” at that time (we relied on medical journals and reference encyclopedias) there is no way that it would have helped us conquer these assessments. After my first pathetic attempt to do this case study on my own, I realized that Dr. Sandmire was trying to teach us the value of synthesizing information, asking meaningful questions, and defending our ideas based upon sound evidence and facts. The importance of memorizing facts was diminished significantly by learning how to analyze material and formulate a reasonable conclusion that made sense. I have used these lessons from this class forward, including my current teaching strategies, which focus on using facts to help evaluate situations. And, although these methods may be different than the traditional lecture method students (and parents) may expect, it is so rewarding at the end of the year to see how much they have grown in their ability to be authentic learners.

One of the biggest challenges as a teacher is to be able to reach all types of learners. When you add to this that students can now “google” any fact-related question, teachers have to connect with their students in innovative ways. Teachers no longer hold the position of “sage on the stage.” Instead, our role has evolved to develop lifelong learners, not simply share facts which students then memorize, regurgitate, and forget. Instead, I have changed my teaching style to reflect how I feel best promotes critical analysis, or, authentic learning.

Every year I regularly have a handful of meetings near the beginning of the school year to explain to parents and students how material is learned in my classes. I explain to them my belief that the 42 minutes I get to spend with their child each day is not best utilized by me writing out notes that I have condensed from the textbook that the students are reading. Simply repeating material I think they have already grasped is not a sufficient use of classroom time. When I first began teaching, I felt the need to “know everything” and felt secure with a marker in my hand and prepared notes from the textbook. Classes went by with little discussion or questions, and I didn’t have to worry about unexpected questions that I might not be able to answer. When I think back to those years now, I can’t believe that’s how I used to spend my class time with students. Now, if you pick any day of the week to come into my classroom, you probably won’t see me at the front of the class, and you probably won’t see all students doing the exact same activity. During any given lesson, I might have five or six students at the microscopes, five or six students working from their iPads, and a handful of others working collaboratively to solve a question that I have put up on the board. I work very hard at the beginning of the school year to get students to become comfortable with the idea of a “fluid classroom.” In my mind, this means that students are free to work from one activity to the next at their pace and regulate their time so that they can complete all activities within the given time frame. This allows students to spend more time on what they really like, but also demands that they experience all activities that relate back to one central topic.

It is a great experience to see how the students transition throughout the year from being so dependent upon the teacher to get facts, to working collaboratively with each other to analyze complex problems. Of course, this requires that students still learn the facts, but instead, they are using class time to use the facts to reason out a problem. I am thankful for all of the wonderful teachers that I have had throughout my life and who have exposed me to different teaching and learning styles. I am also thankful for the opportunity to teach and challenge our future.

The Value of Differentiated Instruction

In February of 2015 I was introduced to a professional development opportunity called “The Future of Learning,” an annual conference developed by and held at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Boston. The Future of Learning conference came out of Harvard’s Project Zero, an endeavor, according to the Project Zero website, “founded by the philosopher Nelson Goodman at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1967 to study and improve education in the arts. Goodman believed that arts learning should be studied as a serious cognitive activity, but that ‘zero’ had yet been firmly established about the field; hence, the project was given its name. Over the years, Project Zero has maintained a strong research agenda in the arts while gradually expanding to include investigations into the nature of intelligence, understanding, thinking, creativity, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural thinking, and ethics.” I was fortunate to attend this week-long conference in July 2015.

drownAt this conference I met my first hero in the education world, Howard Gardner, who explained his Theory of Multiple Intelligences in his 1983 book Frames of Mind. In his book, Gardner describes different intelligence modalities including logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, verbal- linguistic, visual-spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and musical-rhythmic and harmonic, stressing the importance of including all of these modalities in everyday education. At the time, this was ground-breaking research in education, acknowledging that intelligence comes in many different forms and it is important to offer children educational opportunities in all of these areas. Gardner’s work has been referenced innumerable times to promote the inclusion of programs such as art, physical education, music, and character education.

Participation in this conference afforded me the opportunity to see education across the world through the different lenses of elementary teachers, special education aides, school counselors, heads of school, and a variety of other school staff professionals from both the public and private sectors. Through a variety of opening plenary sessions, to in-depth focus groups on specific topics, to learning groups, educators from all backgrounds were given the opportunity to share their opinions and unique perspectives of how the education landscape is evolving right before our eyes. What struck me as most significant was the affirmation that we are doing so many things right at Morgan Park Academy! Gardner strongly believes that no person can be characterized by just one of the intelligence modalities; rather he views each person’s intelligence as a unique blend of all of these intelligences. I see this every day at Morgan Park Academy. Our students demonstrate their multiple intelligences from the athletic fields, to the theater stage, and of course, to the classroom. Our community embraces and supports students pursuing different skills throughout their education and we encourage the continuance of this throughout their life.

Today it is widely acknowledged that students should be exposed to the different intelligence modalities in schools and the benefits of providing students with a variety of opportunities have been widely researched and encouraged. In Carol Ann Tomlinson’s book The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of all Learners, she explains the necessity of differentiated instruction along with providing teachers tools for implementation. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) has acknowledged the relevance of her research by stating:

“Although much has changed in schools in recent years, the power of differentiated instruction remains the same—and the need for it has only increased. Today’s classroom is more diverse, more inclusive, and more plugged into technology than ever before.”

When I began my teaching career 15 years ago, I set out to teach in the same fashion as I had been taught, which was mostly through textbook readings and lectures. I quickly recognized that there was a lot more that our students had to offer than memorization of facts. Throughout the years, I have continuously tailored and redesigned my units to allow for students to demonstrate mastery of the material in a variety of ways. Some of the favorite activities that have come out of this are the cell diagrams where students have created everything from Disney movies, like Lion King and Frozen, to Santa’s workshop, to making leaf imprints to visualize and draw the stomata of plants. I see one of my biggest challenges and also most exciting opportunities in the teaching career as never getting content with teaching a unit as I have taught it in the past. Each class presents a unique blend of learners and it is my job as an educator to reach every student. Using Gardner’s work, I have been able to continuously revisit what and how I am teaching to be most effective for each class.

By Emily Drown

Mrs. Drown is an Upper School science teacher and the Curriculum Leader for our Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Department.