Mindy Jacobsen is the 7th and 8th grade teacher in Nenana, Alaska, and has a small combined classroom where she teaches all subjects. She has been teaching PLTW for four years and LOVES it! PLTW has helped Mindy implement various additional challenges in her classroom. Last year, Mindy’s 8th graders entered the Verizon Innovative App Challenge and won Best in State! In addition, Mindy was also named a BP Teacher of Excellence for 2016, which is an honor in Alaska. In Mindy’s free time outside of school, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two boys, ages 6 and 2. Mindy teaches at Nenana City Public School in Nenana, Alaska.
My favorite unit to teach in PLTW is Medical Detectives because it so fun for the students. In Alaska, a large number of students consider the health field for a possible career. Medical Detectives is the perfect unit to introduce a lot of health field-related topics such as learning to take blood pressure, heart rates, pulse, and temperature; learning more about the senses; and so much more! There is always an activity for them to participate in to strengthen their understanding. They also learn about diseases and viruses and how they spread.
Their favorite part of the unit was when they were able to dissect a sheep brain. This was by far the coolest thing they have ever been able to do and could not believe that I was allowing them to do it! (They are still talking about this as high school students and say that was one of their favorite parts of middle school!) I have never seen them so engaged and proud of something! They took so many pictures and showed as many high school students and teachers as possible! It was great to see them excited about their learning and sharing it with others.
At the end of the Medical Detectives unit, my students walked into our room to see that a crime scene had happened while they were out, and they were in charge of figuring out what happened. They felt like they were on “CSI” and actually getting to learn what they see on shows they watch on TV. They were divided into teams and collected evidence and conducted tests to help them determine what happened at the crime scene. We had some trouble with the electrophoresis but used it as a learning experience – not everything works the first time, and we need to be very careful when following the directions.
I was a proud teacher to see my students get excited about learning and sharing it with everyone, and their parents were also very pleased that their children were having fun while learning. My students’ parents have been very supportive of implementing PLTW and seeing the opportunities it provides for students.
As a very small school in rural Alaska, this is a very uncommon program. At first students were unsure of the change, but once they got involved in the program they loved it. Due to our small size, we offer various units to all students in grades 7 and 8. Since implementing the middle school curriculum, we have expanded it to the elementary and high school students. We now have more students considering careers in STEM fields than we did before. I am a huge fan and supporter of PLTW!