It’s a zoo — literally — in Kyla Burns’ class.
The science teacher’s room at Johnston High School holds a menagerie of creatures including hissing cockroaches, hermit crabs, a hedgehog, rats, lizards, a ball python named Monty and more.
The animals are hers, but the students who take her “Advanced Life Science: Animals” course have the opportunity to also get to know them up close and personal.
Getting students engaged in science is easy when there are animals involved, says Burns, who created the class seven years ago. Not only do they get hands-on interaction with living things, there are also videos and pictures that make learning interesting.
“If they enjoy the class, they’re much more likely to learn,” she says.
But there’s more to this course than students playing with animals. Burns puts a lot of time and effort into the classes she teaches, which includes biology, to make them meaningful and engaging. That shows students she respects their learning, and them, she says.
Respect is at the core of Burns’ teaching philosophy.
“Students perform the best if they feel like you value them, if they feel like their activities are of value,” and not just busywork, she says. “If you have respect for them, they’ll have respect for you.”
Being a high school science teacher gives Burns the chance to not only pursue her love of science, but to also share that passion with others.
She was a “science-y kid” growing up, and her dad would take them on nature walks and go camping, boating and hiking. Now, her sister is a zookeeper and Burns also does some education programming at Blank Park Zoo.
Burns is passionate about zoology, which is what spurred her to create the animals course at Johnston High School. She began thinking of ways her students could teacher younger kids about animals. So she and her students began taking the classroom critters to second-grade classrooms, with the high schoolers teaching the elementary-aged kids.
The project is a lot of fun, says Burns. And seeing her students have fun is one of the things she likes most about her job.
“I enjoy when the students are having a good time while they’re learning,” she says.