ARCHIVED—The Jelly Doughnut and The Jackhammer
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The biggest challenge Andrew Hickey says he faces in his science classes at Holy Heart High School in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, is keeping the students from tuning out. Some are not interested in the subject and others have trouble picking up the concepts from the textbook, so their attention wanders or they do not show up for class.
What is a teacher to do when he knows that his students need science credits to graduate and there are provincial exams to write as well?
One of Hickey's secret weapons is the lowly Tim Horton's jelly doughnut. Hickey uses the tasty treat in a lesson about the oil industry. Students try to suck the filling out of the pastry using a straw (it's not easy; nor is pumping oil). Slicing the doughnut in half shows a cross-section of dough, filling and air pockets that resembles what an oil field looks like underground. On another day, he brings in a spherical loaf of crusty bread. Slicing through it with a chainsaw (not surprisingly, power tools grab teenagers' attention), Hickey illustrates the layers of the interior of the earth; as an added bonus, everyone gets to make and enjoy peanut butter and jam sandwiches at the end of the class.
Hickey finds that giving students everyday examples of things really helps to lift science concepts off the page. While pastries, sandwiches and power tools are useful for introducing ideas, he doesn't stop there. He builds on these basic ideas to cover the rest of the content related to the oil fields, geology or whatever the subject.
In addition to making his classroom a fun place to be ("I always try to have fun every day."), using simple objects and food is easy on an always-stretched budget. It has also presented an opportunity for Hickey to get community support for what he does. A local rental company lets him borrow the tools he needs for his lectures - including a jackhammer for a lesson about rocks and minerals that had other teachers wondering whether they had just been through an earthquake.
Hickey's fun and engaging manner has increased the popularity of science classes at the school, and the students who take his classes - who range widely in academic ability - regularly exceed provincial averages for marks and pass rate. As one former student said, Hickey is "the only man with a chainsaw and jackhammer I've ever learned anything from."