Logo Container

Educator Spotlight: Science Educator Joleen Smith
Rachelle Garbarine

Introduction: We are excited to continue our Educator Spotlight series, which regularly will bring you inside the classroom of one of our exceptional educators. In doing so, the series will offer you a glimpse of how Gibbons educators care for and engage students, preparing them for college and beyond while forming them as men and women of faith, service, and leadership in church and community.  Today, we are spotlighting Science Educator Joleen Smith. Our other spotlights featured Theology Educator Austin Faur and English Educator Maria Hill.

 

The first thing you notice about Room 225 is the yellow tape draped across the door announcing that a crime scene awaits just beyond the entrance. It is the telltale sign that this is a science class like no other.

It is Science Educator Joleen Smith’s Forensics Class. Here, Smith capitalizes on the popularity of TV crime dramas and the subject’s innate appeal to pique students’ interest in and inspire their respect for the power of science. In the process, they wind up absorbing a great deal of serious science knowledge.

In today’s class, for instance, Smith, a Gibbons educator for 16 years, is covering fingerprints. She shows students the three distinct ridge patterns - loops, whorls, and arches - and emphasizes how they are used to identify individuals. With numerous hands-on activities - enabling students to do everything from actual fingerprinting to collecting and analyzing data - there are moments when everyone is engaged, excited, and just a little noisy.

“This inquiry-based course,” Smith says, “melds and hones lab skills from previous coursework, including DNA analysis from biology, fiber analysis from chemistry, blood spatter calculations from physics, and casting from earth science.” Students, she adds, also work as a team of crime scene investigators and forensic scientists to unravel the mystery of a final Who Done It? challenge.

Her students, in turn, revel in the mystery of it all. That is evident in the fingerprinting class with students asking non-stop questions. Smith, who is always smiling and looking for ways to connect with students, shoots back with questions of her own and encourages them to expand their answers. Before continuing, she asks: Got it? or You with me? Their response is a collective yes.

She then tests students’ knowledge by having them fingerprint themselves, as well as identifying the ridge pattern of their index finger and ultimately of all ten fingers. Students also calculate the percentage of students having each of the three ridge patterns and compare their findings to national averages. With students chatting and interacting with one another and with Smith, it is clear they appreciate the practical application of science and think the scientific techniques they are learning are cool.