Technically, Joy Aragones is the Middle School Science teacher — but she wants her students to learn by doing activities that they lead themselves.

By Rachel Morello | Middle School, Student Life

Seemingly wherever you go on Prairie’s beautiful, sprawling, tree-lined campus — there’s Joy Aragones.

During her relatively brief two years at Prairie so far, the Middle School Science teacher has taken full advantage of the school environment…literally. She has trekked across the main parking lot several times with her fifth and sixth graders to the Wind Meadows Pond and the Lake Michigan shoreline for outdoor lessons. And field trips for other hands-on experiments are a regular part of her class calendar.

It’s all because Mrs. Aragones believes you learn by doing, especially in science class. And her kids aren’t just students — they’re scientists.

In between her prep time and class demonstrations, we caught up with Mrs. Aragones to ask her about the work that goes in to making science an experience, instead of just a class.

What’s your favorite part of the school day? 
“My favorite part of the day is when we’re in an activity and the kids are totally into it. When there are smiles, or they say, ‘WHOA! Did you just see that?’ That’s my favorite part of teaching.”

Two sixth graders take full advantage of the school environment at Wind Meadows Pond, as they complete some water sampling during Mrs. Aragones’ science class.

Do you think the ‘WHOA!’ is because you teach science, or does that happen with other subjects, too?
“It definitely does happen with other subjects — just in a different way. In science, it’s usually a little more emphatic, just because of the nature of the subject. They’re quicker to happen and easier to see. But if you have ever taught a kid to read — THAT is a whole other kind of ‘whoa!’ that you won’t experience anywhere else.”

You tell your students that they are scientists, and direct them to think about questions as a scientist rather than as a student. Do you consider yourself a scientist? 
“I would like to consider myself a scientist, but I feel like I’m definitely a teacher first. When I started college, I actually had plans to go to medical school — I started as a biology major. But I had always thought I might want to be a teacher, and I was volunteering to tutor kids, which got me back into that mode. But science has always been and is kind of my thing — whether I’m teaching all day in a classroom or not.”

The concept of a “renaissance education” is important here at Prairie — giving students a chance to try their hand at everything. How do you try to incorporate this concept in your classroom? 
“You learn the most when you do things on your own. It’s always more fun to do something than to watch somebody else do it. If I just did an experiment, it doesn’t get as big of a reaction as when the kids do it themselves. When we do water testing in my class, we go down to the waterfront on campus, rather than just carrying water back to our classroom. And as we’ve gone through some of our lessons, the kids connect back to the activities they’ve participated in themselves. Letting them make those connections for themselves is invaluable.”

“Even if science isn’t your ‘thing,’ you should have enough knowledge of the world to understand the environmental issues being discussed, to be a good citizen. If you give them that background now, they’re going to hopefully hold onto it and build it as they move through school.”

 

Did You Know: The state-of-the-art campus that Mrs. Aragones and her students roam for their experiments is maintained through gifts made to the Prairie Fund. Money raised through this initiative bolsters TPS’ budget, and provides crucial support for academics, arts, athletics, and co-curricular programming. Learn more and make YOUR gift by clicking here today!