Teacher makes science happen before their eyes

November 05, 2000

Teacher makes science happen before their eyes

Editor's Note: The Herald-Mail is featuring one middle school teacher each month through May. The eight-part series highlights excellent educators on the first Monday of each month. Coming in December: E. Russell Hicks Middle School.

By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer

Eighth grade science teacher John Geist has his own approach to teaching.

He doesn't focus on lecturing or overloading kids with homework. Rather, the 53-year-old Clear Spring Middle School teacher prefers assigning science labs and adorning his classroom with rockets, planets and pictures of constellations to keep the students interested.


He also changes daily activities frequently so the class can look forward to fresh lesson plans.

"Day by day they don't know what's coming off in here," Geist said. "I try to make the room interesting and the class interesting."

Geist recently assigned three labs on magnetism. One lab required students to suspend a paper clip between two magnets and then find objects that would block the magnetic field and cause the paper clip to fall.


Most of the students caught on right away and mumbled words like "awesome" and "cool" after they successfully suspended the paper clip in mid-air.

"I like them to say 'this is pretty cool, this is awesome,'" Geist said. "It gets the kids to actually understand what's going on around them. It's one thing to read about it, but it's another thing to actually see science as it happens before their eyes."

That's what Geist says is the most rewarding part of teaching. It's something that has kept him in the field for 32 years, 27 of them at Clear Spring.

"I like what I do," he said. "If you like what you do, it's really not work. I like working with kids."

He also has his students create an "edible" DNA model out of candy, an activity that offers a little reward if they can name the makeup of DNA.

"Once they can tell me all the parts, they can eat it," he said. "It's a lot of fun."

Geist said he plans to teach another two to five years.

"I'm ready to retire, but I like it too much to give it up right now," he said.

Geist, a native of Fulton County, Pa., graduated from Shippensburg State College - now Shippensburg University - and has taken classes at Western Maryland College, American University and Edinboro University in Pennsylvania.

He said teaching is in his blood, as his father was also a teacher, became a principal and eventually went on to become a superintendent. His brother was also a teacher.

Geist has been married to Violet for 32 years and has three grown daughters.

Throughout his years of experience, he said he learned that assigning a lot of homework isn't necessarily a benefit for students.

"I don't load them down with homework," he said. "I've been doing that for years, and it's very successful."

He said students are busy doing homework for other classes and have extra-curricular activities to squeeze in after school, all important elements of education.

When he does give homework, he said he never assigns it more than once a week and allows students two days to complete it. They are also given bonus points for handing in assignments early."I get 100 percent turn-in for homework," Geist said.

Students who don't hand in homework, however, must spend time in what he calls "Geist's Dining Hall."

"They have to come into the classroom and eat lunch with me," he said. "And they don't like that."

School Principal Roger Stenerson described Geist as a dedicated, effective teacher who knows how to leave a lasting mark on students.

"I just like what I do," Geist said. "I've been a successful teacher here for 27 years. I never had a bad evaluation. This has been my home away from home."

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